Race fight at `harmony' college

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The Independent Online
Police and demonstrators were injured yesterday when fighting broke out between groups of Sikh and Muslim students at a college proud of its reputation for racial harmony.

More than 20 people were arrested as police broke up scuffles outside the main buildings of the West Thames further education college in Isleworth, west London. Several officers suffered cuts and bruises.

The incident came after a minor disturbance on Friday which led to two students being suspended. Gerard O'Donnell, college principal, said yesterday's incident, which involved about 100 people, happened when a "gang of Muslim fundamentalists, so I understand, entered the college carrying banners and started chanting, obviously intent on causing trouble.

"I had been tipped off that this might happen, so as soon as I heard it I called 999. The ironic thing is that next month we will have the first report from the further education funding council. They are going to make particular reference to the racially harmonious atmosphere here," he said.

Yesterday police said that 20 people had been arrested and were being held at two stations.

Mr O'Donnell said almost all those involved in yesterday's fracas were not students from the college and many were "much older than 18".

Yesterday afternoon a crowd of up to 100 Muslims gathered at Chiswick police station, where some of the demonstrators were being held. Police reinforcements were drafted in but the protest was peaceful, punctuated only by prayer sessions.

A spokesman for the Muslims refused to make an official statement, although others were more forthcoming, confirming reports of what had happened earlier in the day.

Mr O'Donnell said tapes from college security cameras, installed last summer to stem a wave of burglaries, had been handed to police.