Man who tried to set police van on fire at Bristol riot jailed for 14 years

Ryan Roberts denied all charges against him. Credit: Avon and Somerset Police

A man who tried to set fire to a police van with an officer inside during the Bristol riot has been sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Ryan Roberts, 25, was convicted of trying to endanger life at an earlier hearing, one of five counts he was found guilty of in total.

Video footage showed Roberts, of Goodhind Street in Easton, Bristol, reaching under the van with a lit piece of cardboard during a riot on March 21 this year when a 'Kill the Bill' demonstration turned violent. 

Roberts told an officer inside one of the vans he would “go bang”, Bristol Crown Court was told during his trial. He denied all charges against him but was found guilty by a jury.

  • Watch: Detective superintendent James Riccio on the sentencing

Roberts threw bottles, cans and placards at officers before smashing in the windows of the Bridewell Street police station. 

He also led chants of “ACAB: All cops are b*******” outside a city centre police station on March 21 this year.

In further footage of the night, Roberts, who admitted to drinking and taking drugs that day, could be seen on the roof of the police station.

  • Watch: Footage shown in court from night of riot

Bristol Crown Court heard damage totalling over £200,000 was caused during the rioting that evening.

The jury found him guilty of five charges on October 29:

  • Riot

  • Arson

  • Arson being reckless as to whether life was in danger on a Ford police car 

  • Attempted arson with intent to endanger life on one police van

  • Attempted arson being reckless as to whether life was in danger on a second police van

Roberts said he was fighting for a cause he felt strongly about and was upset by the way police reacted on the night.

He said he got “carried away” fighting for freedom of speech.

More than 40 officers were injured in the riot, which died down in the early hours of March 22.

The police officers who were involved said it was the most frightening incident of their careers with 'ferocious, prolonged and determined violence' directed towards them with unprecedented hostility.

  • Detective superintendent James Riccio on the "harrowing" experience of the officer inside the van

Nicholas Lewin, defending, said Roberts had recently been diagnosed with ADHD, had been prescribed medication and was not a “sophisticated criminal”.

“Mr Roberts is not a rampant fire starter, twisted or other,” he said.

“He is someone on the fringes of society who is perhaps not equipped to be fully integrated within it – I am trying not to be politically incorrect. He is not your average criminal.

“Custody for him will be considerably more difficult than it would be for somebody without his difficulties.”

Jailing Roberts, Judge James Patrick said: “You were actively involved in committing violence over a period of five hours.

“You were actively encouraging the crowd from an early stage and your actions encouraged the violence against police officers.

“You carried out a leading role in the encouraging of others in the setting of other fires.”