Chalk Talk: How I fell victim to unreasonable force
Thursday 04 November 2010
To the University of London to hear David Willetts talk about the future of universities. Apparently, the Universities Secretary wanted to cycle to the event but was told to abandon the idea because of the presence of a large number of student demonstrators. When I arrived at Senate House they were noisily chanting near the entrance to the meeting. As I offered identification to a steward, I was grabbed by the arm and forced back against a wall. I was tempted to say "get your hands off me", but a look at the steward's face made me think this might not be a wise move. In the end, a second steward accepted my ID and I was allowed into the meeting.
I mention this because, when I got inside, a woman colleague from another paper told how she had been assaulted on trying to gain entry, and flung against the wall. She tried to complain to the police (I tried to back her up by stating that I thought the stewarding had been unnecessarily physical) but was told by a policewoman that no offence had occurred since reasonable force had been used.
I find it staggering that the police believe you can use force against innocent bystanders. Would they have intervened if the force had been used against them? Or just shrugged and muttered: "Oh well, that was reasonable." It is a serious issue because I imagine we will witness far more of these demonstrations at university meetings in the wake of the Browne report recommending higher fees for students (witness the demonstration at Oxford last Thursday, which caused Willetts' boss Vince Cable to call off a planned address to students).
If the police are going to wash their hands over issues like this, then it's time for the universities to ensure their security staff are told to maintain reasonable behaviour. And my understanding of the word "reasonable", it would appear, is very different from that of the police.
* Sad to relate the death of Olympic oarsman Andy Holmes, Sir Steve Redgrave's partner in so many triumphs. In his latter years, he brought the love of rowing into the lives of many state school youngsters. He worked with the Langley Academy in Berkshire, which has an arrangement with Eton to use its boating lake – thus being the only state school to have rowing on the curriculum.
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