June 12, 2014
The attack was as daring as it was destructive. In the early hours of August 27 last year, anarchists slipped through the cordon around a highly sensitive construction project: a firearms training centre for Avon and Somerset police, next to their HQ near Portishead.
This is how the perpetrators boasted of what happened next when they claimed responsibility online: ‘We used accelerant to burn the major electrical cables at five junction points throughout the complex, and doused and lighted a pallet of fittings and wires… we left it with flames licking high.’
The blaze was so intense it took four days to put it out. The firearms centre – a state-of-the-art-facility designed to serve forces across the South West, with classrooms and two firing ranges – had been due to open within weeks. It was wrecked. Police said the cost of the damage was £18 million.
There was an extensive investigation and Chief Constable Nick Gargan promised they would catch whoever was responsible by ‘developing the intelligence picture’. To date, they have failed.
They did make one arrest, but Mr Gargan – who is now suspended following allegations of sexual harassment – has admitted this ‘didn’t lead to anything productive’.
Yet the anarchist or anarchists – dubbed the ‘Bristol Unabomber’, after reclusive American killer Ted Kaczynski, by a domestic extremism analyst who believes it is one person – is apparently not only laughing at the law, but has struck repeatedly, getting away with serious crimes time and again.
For The Mail on Sunday can reveal that although the Portishead attack was the most costly, it was just one in a series of about 50 incidents in and around Bristol, dating back more than four years.
Some are seemingly trivial: minor fires that soon fizzled out; graffiti daubings of businesses and paint-stripper thrown on cars. Others, however, are far more serious – and there is evidence that they are linked.
No other UK city has been subject to anything remotely comparable. Yet the Avon and Somerset force have resisted suggestions that the many components are connected, despite an obvious common factor – the online claims of responsibility, all written in an outraged jargon that seems to reject every aspect of contemporary Britain.
Early yesterday, hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in the Fishponds area of Bristol, while police carried out a controlled explosion on a suspicious car. However, police said the incident was ‘isolated’.
The most recent ‘Unabomber’ attack – by a home-made incendiary bomb that gutted the front and lobby of North Avon Magistrates’ Court – took place ten days ago, in the small hours of May 22. So far, no one has been injured, but some of the attacks might easily have led to loss of life. One of the worst took place in May 2012, when train signal cable wires were dug up and set on fire at two stations on Bristol’s network, Parson Street and Bedminster.
The attacks have hit offices, vehicles and shops, targeting businesses such as the supermarket Tesco, the banks Barclays and Santander, energy companies EDF and E.ON, and private security firms G4S and Serco.
Royal Marines vehicles were set on fire at a base in the Clifton area in February, and three cars, two people carriers and a van were torched inside a UK Border Agency garage last year.
The arsonist or arsonists have also destroyed cabling in television, radio, police and mobile phone transmitter masts at least four times, causing damage worth many tens of thousands of pounds. After an attack on a mast at Bathampton in April 2012, 80,000 homes lost their TV signal for several days.
Calculating a total sum for the damage caused is difficult. But, adding the cost of the firearms to the masts, the railway and office attacks and the many vehicles damaged or destroyed, it must be more than £20 million.