'Violent thugs' hurl rocks and tomatoes at Conservative MP Mike Weatherley ahead of squatting debate in Brighton

 

A Conservative MP and his entourage have been attacked at Sussex University by protesters angry about the illegalisation of squatting.

Mike Weatherley, who represents Hove in East Sussex, was about to give a talk in Falmer, just outside Brighton, about the new laws he helped to  introduce when he was targeted by what he called “a group of pro-squatter thugs”.

“As soon as I walked in to the lecture theatre someone attempted to punch me. The event was immediately abandoned, but as we tried to leave, rocks were hurled, and two female members of my staff were injured. My staff and I were barricaded into a room, until the police arrived.” He was then taken to safety by officers in a van.

The protesters, believed to have numbered around 50, were not thought to be students from the university according to a statement it issued last night. “We are appalled to hear that Mike Weatherley was prevented from speaking on campus by a group of protestors – not our students,” a spokesperson said.

Squatters can now be arrested by police immediately following complaints from local councils, following the introduction of new laws on 1 September. Previously they were able to resist eviction or detention through an often long and drawn out process of civil action.

The MP said that one of his staff had her arm crushed in a door while another was hit on her neck by a stone.

“It’s absolutely outrageous that a peaceful event such as this should be hijacked by a group of violent thugs,” said Mr Weatherley. “The squatters have regularly attempted to stop free speech from taking place for the precise reason that they cannot justify their criminal behaviour. I have made a statement to Sussex Police, and to Sussex University Security, about the most violent members of the mob. Once the trouble started, both police and security did their jobs incredibly well. I am grateful to them.”

Protesters disputed that rocks were thrown at Mr Weatherby. A statement issued by the Squatters Network of Brighton, which called the demonstration “an amazing day out”, said: “His security and aides struggled to protect him as he fled, chased by a mob throwing eggs, tomatoes and other things. With no cops in sight, people were really showing their anger.”

It admitted, however, that some of the violent chants against Mr Weatherby included: “Mike Weatherley’s getting lynched” and “One Solution, execution”.

Mr Weatherley told The Independent: “If there are any students involved I expect the institution to take the utmost action and expel them, and I expect the police to track down those responsible and hold them to account, if they possibly can.

“A lot of my staff saw the rocks being thrown, one hit my back and I can tell you it was not a vegetable. Maybe it was a very hard turnip but it wasn’t a tomato. I had tomatoes thrown at me as well but the one that hit me on the back was far harder. I think people were picking up whatever they could find and throwing it.”

He added that he was barricaded inside room for 45 minutes, while some of his nine staff had to remain inside for up to two hours, and that some of the group were “climbing on the roof to get access, it was extremely intimidating”.

“Some of my staff are quite young and they were extremely shaken up. It’s disgraceful. There is no chance of me returning to Sussex University until they have in place some very stringent measures to make sure this never happens again. Why weren’t they checking IDs when they were coming on to campus? Why didn’t they call security to move on the people who weren’t students? The university have a lot to answer for here. I can’t see many MPs wanting to go there after this, it’s ridiculous.”

Later, the University of Sussex said it was "appalled" by the incident and said it had “deep regret” for the distress caused to Mr Weatherley.

"We believe that the violent disruption was led by activist protesters from outside of the university, not by our students,” it said in a statement. “We had appropriate security measures in place to protect our students and visitors as a matter of contingency, and we were able to put those into effect in this case.

"We are giving help and support to the police over the incident, and if there is any evidence of violent actions by our students we would of course provide that to them.”

Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
News
Higher expectations: European economies are growing but the recovery remains weak
newsThe eurozone crisis has tipped many into despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues economist Philippe Legrain
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Fresh hope: Ruth Womak and her dog Jess. A free training course in basic computing skills changed Ruth’s life
educationHow a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable