Student protests banned in London after two days of unrest and 41 arrests
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Friday 06 December 2013
A university has obtained an injunction banning its students from protesting on campus for six months after two days of unrest led to 41 arrests.
The University of London said the injunction was the “last straw” to stem what it said had been “a campaign of aggression and intimidation”.
Students at the university had staged a sit-in - in part to protest at losing their facilities and in part to protest at what they consider to be moves across the country to “privatise” university support services.
The university says its students do not need an umbrella students’ union for the entire university as each college has its own.
Violent clashes began on Wednesday between police and students after students had occupied part of the university’s headquarters.
Video footage shown on BBC regional TV news appeared to show one student falling to the ground after being pushed in the face by a police. Students claimed he had been punched.
Protesters then barricaded the vice-chancellor’s and other offices, claiming that peaceful demonstrations had had little effect.
As a result, 36 students were arrested on Thursday - with two accused of assaulting the police and the rest for breach of the peace or affray as scuffles broke out between the two sides.
The protest was one of a number organised by students during the past week. At Sussex University in Brighton, where catering facilities are being sourced out to a private contractor, five students are facing disciplinary action, accused of being involved in organising “repeated serious disruption” through occupations. The five have been suspended from campus and excluded from their courses.
The University of London injunction states that “students have no right to conduct a ‘sit-in’ or take possession of any areas of the campus. It was granted on Thursday and covers the university’s headquarters at Senate House, the University of London Union offices, the Warberg Institute, Brunei Gallery and main buildings of neighbouring Birkbeck College and the School of Oriental and African Studies.
It adds that the students’ protest “has involved senior members of the university staff, including the Vice-Chancellor, being prevented from leaving their offices”.
“There has therefore been both a serious incursion upon university property and a serious interference with liberty and freedom of senior university personnel.”
A spokesman for the university added: “We regard the injunction as a regrettable but necessary step to prevent further occupations of Senate House and other university buildings in Bloomsbury.
“Wednesday’s incursion was the last straw in a series of aggressive and intimidatory acts by student protesters over the past year which have seen our staff threatened, abused and in some cases injured.”
Speaking after the Wednesday protest had led to the video depicting a student shoved to the ground by the police and the disciplinary action against the Sussex students, Rachel Wenstone, vice-president of the NUS, said: “We were absolutely appalled by the handling of student protesters we have seen in both Sussex and London in recent days.
“Peaceful protest and occupation is part of the history of the student movement and one we are very proud of. They are legitimate tactics, enshrined in our right to protest and are available to students when there is no other way to get their voices heard.”
A statement from the Metropolitan Police said three officers had suffered minor injuries during the clashes on Thursday when between 200 and 300 people had gathered to protest in Malet Street.
"Some of the group were covering their faces, others carrying home made shields,” it added.
On the previous day, it said a 25-year-old man had been charged with assault following the sit-in, a 20-year-old man was arrested for obstructing police and three other men bailed to return in the New Year on charges of causing danger to users of the highway.
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