Exclusive: We spoke to the UoB student arrested on the Clifton Suspension Bridge

The XR occupation shut down the bridge for almost three hours before the protesters were arrested

On Thursday night, Bristol student Charlie Siret was “locked on” to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, drenched through by torrential rain, denied food and water and arrested during an XR Youth protest.

Charlie, along with 18-year-old post A-level student Fern, locked themselves together in an arm brace and lay down in front of cars, while an estimated 70 police officers surrounded the bridge.

The Bristol Tab spoke to Charlie, who is going into her second year at UoB studying sociology, about her experience of blockading the famous bridge.

Charlie lying on the bridge, with her arm in a pink lock brace. Photo Credit: Fern

“At 8:10pm we were picked up to go, and then dropped off on the bridge at 8:20pm. We just got out the car, Fern was holding the lock on and we just sat down on the floor and locked ourselves in.” Charlie told us.

The bridge lock on was Charlie’s first action with XR Youth: “I was quite nervous about it. It was a lot of adrenaline. We had done a lot of calming down things before which helped remind us what we were doing this for, which was really helpful.”

XR Youth are raising awareness and support for a new Climate & Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE) to pass through parliament, which would provide a clear structure for building an economy that works for people and the planet.

Charlie told us that the bridge lock on was put into action in response to the police telling XR Youth that they were going to close the Clifton Suspension Bridge at midnight, ahead of the XR Youth’s planned bridge occupation on Friday.

“12 hours before we were supposed to set up on the bridge, they told us they were blocking it off entirely” she told The Bristol Tab, “The police were with us within about 30 seconds and they had police at either side of the bridge, as they were expecting some kind of action.”

The two students were on the bridge for nearly three hours before getting arrested, and faced yellow weather warning rain.

“It started raining around 9.30pm, Fern got arrested at 10:30pm, and one of those hours was really heavy rain without a tarpaulin cover as the police didn’t allow us our welfare bag.

“We had a bag with food and water, a sleeping bag and roll mat, the team off the bridge had a welfare bag that contained more sleeping bags a tarpaulin to cover over ourselves so we didn’t get wet and the police didn’t let it on. We were expected to have multiple other XR Youth members come on with us, but they got everyone out apart from our police liaison.

“By 10pm we were soaked through, shivering, my jeans were a good few shades darker, we were lying in a puddle on a roll mat, I had a raincoat on and Fern didn’t, she was hiding in her sleeping bag. We were freezing and drenched through.

“At 10:30pm lights came towards us from the Ashton Court side of the bridge and it was three massive police vans along with 15 police officers. There was an estimate of 70 police officers in and around the bridge, so essentially we had 35 officers each. It was really quite excessive.

“We made the decision to unlock ourselves, rather than them getting their specialist team in to saw us out of the lock, then we both got arrested. They patted me down and I got handcuffed and put in the back of a van.”

Charlie told us that the risk of arrest was high from the get-go, as they knew that the plans to close the bridge meant police presence would be higher.

“The police have generally been quite cooperative with XR, but the fact that all of a sudden they didn’t let us have a welfare bag, which was a real safety issue because we were sitting in torrential rain, made us realise that they were not being nice this time.

“Our intention was to stay all night if we had the tarp, the food and the water. We would have stayed as long as we could.”

Charlie (left) and Fern (right) held up traffic, and were surrounded by police. Photo credit: Simon Holliday / simonholliday.com

Charlie told us about her experience of the arrest, and her concern that how she was treated was defined by her skin colour:  “Obviously because I am a white, young woman, a university student and sound quite posh this police woman apologised for handcuffing me. I felt really uncomfortable with that because they were arresting me and had denied me things that I need for my safety, and then they apologise for handcuffing me.

“It actively made me feel very uncomfortable that they were so nice to me, which sounds really odd. I don’t mean it in an ‘oh what a trauma it is to be privileged way’. Having the first hand experience of them treating a white girl so nicely, makes the context of them treating everyone else so poorly so stark.

“As soon as I wasn’t a threat to them anymore, I was just a nice white girl who they were talking to about music and stuff on the way to the police station. It was very uncomfortable.”

XR Youth members waited outside the police station from 7am on Friday after Fern and Charlie’s arrest:  “They were waiting hours in the rain. I can’t express how grateful I was to see them when I came out.” She said, “Fern was released two hours later than I was, so we waited for her too.

“My flatmate had let my mum know I had been arrested, and she was fine. She was glad that I am so passionate about it and completely understands. The only time I felt unsafe was when the police denied us our stuff.”

Charlie expressed her gratitude to the people behind the scenes of the operation who she said “were the ones who really did all the work”.

“Out of the 13 hours I was in the cell I slept for nine of them. The people doing the hard stuff were the people who were awake until 1:3am0 and woke up again at 5am or couldn’t sleep because they were so worried about us and continued getting action ready for Friday.”

Featured Image: Simon Holliday

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