Man who set fire to police van at Bristol riot jailed for five years

The police van was set on fire during Kill the Bill riots in Bristol in 2021. Credit: PA/Avon and Somerset Police

A man who set fire to a police van during a riot in Bristol last year has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Matthew o'Neill, 31, from Patchway in South Gloucestershire, previously admitted charges of riot and arson on the first day of what would have been his trial.

O’Neill is the seventeenth person to be jailed for offences committed during the riot so far - bringing the combined sentence to 65 years and five months.

O'Neill was identified by police from a video which showed him setting the van on fire and using an officer's shield to fan the flames.

  • Watch the moment Matthew O’Neill set the van on fire

In the police investigation of the riots, which happened following a Kill the Bill protest in Bristol on Sunday 21 March 2021, O’Neill was also captured on video wielding a chair to smash the front window of a police van already ablaze. 

The rioter also used a police shield and baton to attack officers, as well as cause damage to the front of Bridewell Police Station.

At the hearing, Judge Patrick said O’Neill was part of a group which ‘hijacked’ a peaceful protest which "became aggressive in an immediate, menacing and threatening way".

He added: "Officers were struck, spat on, kicked and punched, and dragged into the crowd away from their colleagues. They were dehumanised throughout this disorder.

"Operationally this was a very difficult situation to police. Your behaviour was criminal and far exceeded anything that can be described as a lawful protest."

"The incident caused serious distress, damage and a considerable amount of expense which needs to be paid by the public purse."

O’Neill is the seventeenth person to be jailed for offences committed during the riot so far. Credit: ITV West Country

Det Supt James Riccio said: “Matthew O’Neill chose to use the uncontrollable weapon of fire during the wanton violence he engaged in on that night.

"The change in plea on what would have been the first day of his trial is testament to the compelling visual evidence against him, meticulously collated by our team of investigators.

"This sends out a clear and compelling message that violence and destruction will not be tolerated and if you engage in that kind of behaviour, you can expect to be brought to justice for your actions."

In a separate hearing, Fleur Moody, aged 26, of Montpelier in Bristol, admitted a charge of affray at Bristol Crown Court in connection with our investigation into the riot.

This brings the total number of people held accountable for offences committed outside Bridewell Police Station to 21.

Moody will appear at court on 5 September for sentencing.