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Police dogs and handlers recognised for their bravery in policing Bristol riot

Five dog handlers and three police dogs on a lawn

Several police dogs and handlers from Avon and Somerset Police have been recognised for their acts of bravery working on the frontline of the riot in Bristol last year.

Police Dogs Bali, Ike, Nash, Ash and Bodge, along with their handlers PC Fairman, PC Claridge, PC Malessa, PS Dalrymple and PC Biggs were commended for their instrumental role in policing the riot at the National Service Dog Bravery and Achievement Awards which took place on Saturday 27 August 2022.

On Sunday 21 March 2021, what began as a peaceful protest against the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill sadly progressed into a night of unprecedented violence and criminal damage in Bristol city centre. Avon and Somerset Police faced an extremely hostile situation in which missiles were thrown at officers, police vans attacked and set on fire, and the Bridewell police station targeted, putting lives of police officers and staff at serious risk.

Upon becoming aware of the increasing disorder, several police dog handlers recalled themselves to duty and were on the ground within the hour. Here the intensive training of the police dogs and the bonds of trust and loyalty between dogs and handlers shone through as they became instrumental in protecting members of the public and their policing colleagues.

As tensions escalated, it soon became evident that the police station itself was under attack with staff inside the building taking refuge in fear for their safety as police officers bravely tried to de-escalate and manage the situation outside.

The dog handlers quickly formulated a plan to assist officers in dealing with the situation. They bravely placed themselves and their dogs in the line of attack and stopped rioters from gaining entry to the building, preventing grave consequences for the police station and those inside.

Once the station was secure, the dogs and their handlers assisted their policing colleagues outside and were met with sustained and prolonged threats of violence as they engaged in dispersal tactics for several hours.

Head of Operational Support at Avon and Somerset Police Ben Mosely said: “Our dogs and their handlers bravely and courageously put themselves in genuine danger to protect the safety of their fellow police officers. They were instrumental in restoring order and seeing them recognised today for their outstanding bravery and courage is a moment of huge pride for us all. It is also true testament to the hard work our officers put into training and building the bonds of trust with the dogs. I would like to add my thanks to the team, and all our colleagues who were involved in policing the riot in March, keeping many people safe and managing the aftermath of the events.”

Investigations continue into the events on 21st March and to date, 20 people have been jailed for a combined total of 76 years and one month for their role in the riot.

Chief Dog Instructor PS Steve Hopwood was also recognised for his dedication and commitment with a special Outstanding Achievement and Dedication to Duty award. Over his 19 years of service for Avon and Somerset, PS Hopwood has worked and trained three general purpose police dogs, as well as specialist search dogs. He has demonstrated a total commitment to keeping police dogs safe whilst protecting the public and been instrumental in diffusing many large scale disorders quickly and effectively.

PS Hopwood was described as a “truly outstanding officer who often puts himself forward for additional projects and duties which have been a major factor in developing the image and performance of the dog section” at Avon and Somerset.