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."

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week