Cambridge student receives 'unprecedented' two-and-a-half year suspension for Universities Minister protest

 

A Cambridge student was suspended from the university for two-and-a-half years today for his part in a protest during a speech by the Universities Minister David Willetts.

The “unprecedented” sentence handed down to Owen Holland, a PhD student in the Faculty of English, came on the same day as students marched in London and walked out of institutions across the country to demand Mr Willetts’ resignation. The student read out a poem during a visit by the minister last year, each line of which was other protesting students repeated back.

They criticised Mr Willetts for his role in the implementation of higher student fees during the talk in November last year and told him to “go home”. The students chanting the ‘epistle’ stopped Willetts from speaking, and eventually forced him from the lecture hall before he was able to give the planned speech.

Mr Holland also sought to condemn the minister, calling him “a man who believes in the market and in the power of competition”.

“I didn’t expect the sentence to be as harsh as has been handed down. The worst the university advocate, who was prosecuting, was pressing for was a single term, and she would have been happy with a fine,” Owen Holland said on Wednesday.

After a six-hour hearing today, Mr Holland was found guilty of impeding the minister’s freedom of speech. Rees Arnott-Davies, a student at Corpus Christi College said: “this is out of all proportion. Two and a half years for an entirely legal and peaceful protest is an absolute travesty and makes me ashamed to study at this university. The idea that you can protect freedom of speech by silencing protest is the height of hypocrisy.”

Another student said: “It is unprecedented. People are shocked, we were expecting a fine or maybe a short suspension but he will not be able to continue his studies until late-2014.”

After the institution decided to charge Mr Holland, more than 60 dons and students wrote to University authorities admitting to their role in the protest and demanding to be charged of the same offence.

In the letter the signatories object to the fact that only one person has been prosecuted for the protest. The signatories denounced the charges as “arbitrary and wrong” pointing out that the protest was “a collective act and that we the undersigned were all involved in it – whether directly or indirectly, actively or in a supportive capacity”.

But University authorities were unmoved and pressed ahead with the disciplinary action.

Earlier today Mr Willetts faced calls to leave his post from students angry at his role in implementing the government’s controversial higher education reforms. Organisers estimated that around one thousand students marched through London shouting slogans and carrying placards.

A national day of action, organised by the National Union of Students, saw thousands of students across the country walk out of classrooms and a supplementary march by protest group the Education Activist Network targeted Mr Willetts himself, demanding he step down. A Metropolitan Police spokesman confirmed no arrests were made.

A Cambridge University spokesman said: “The University notes the decision of the Court of Discipline in its proceedings held today.

"By Statute the Court of Discipline is an independent body which is empowered to adjudicate when a student is charged by the University Advocate with an offence against the discipline of the University. The Court may impose a range of sentences as defined in the Statutes.”

Mr Holland has a right to appeal the decision in the next 28 days.

Regarding today's student protests a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson said: “We are putting students at the heart of the system, with a diverse range of providers offering high-quality teaching. Going to university depends on ability not the ability to pay.

"Most new students will not pay upfront, there will be more financial support for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and everyone will make lower monthly loan repayments than they do now once they are in well paid jobs."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Development Manager

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Recruitment Genius: Qualified Nursery Practitioner - Sevenoaks

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Room Leader - Nursery

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunit...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'