Anger at arrest of 150 student demonstrators

By Kevin Rawlinson
Thursday 02 December 2010 01:00

More than 150 demonstrators were arrested at Tuesday's student protests after they refused to abandon their rally in Trafalgar Square. Officers again used their "kettling" tactic to detain protesters as the initially peaceful demonstration ended in a stand-off between students and police.

Around 200 people ignored repeated police requests to disperse and officers finally moved to clear the area between 8pm and 9pm.

Earlier in the day, a police "forward intelligence team" filmed protesters as they marched through London in an attempt to "gather evidence" of wrongdoing. The officers were met with chants of "we are peaceful, what are you?" from the thousands of marchers.

A police spokesman said the arrests had been made to "prevent a continuing breach of the peace" after Nelson's Column was sprayed with grafitti.

Police detained 139 people on breach of the peace grounds in Trafalgar Square and another seven were arrested for violent disorder. Having given their names and addresses, the former group were driven to surrounding train, bus and Tube stations and allowed to leave.

March organisers had originally informed police they intended to rally at Trafalgar Square at noon and proceed down Whitehall to Parliament Square two hours later. But protesters, wary that following a similar plan had culminated in their forced confinement or "kettling" last week, evaded officers and continued towards Victoria station, past Hyde Park and on towards the City, via Oxford Street.

Marchers were escorted by a small number of police and, after the procession became fragmented, some returned to Trafalgar Square, continuing their demonstration into the evening.

Officers cordoned off the square but were "actively encouraging" small groups of protesters to leave. After a fight between two demonstrators drew the crowd towards the south-west corner, police closed the nearest exit and blocked Whitehall, leading some to believe that they were being forcibly contained again.

A police spokesman said that it was the force's duty to protect the students' right to protest but added that that right needed to be balanced with the rights of others. The decision was taken to clear Trafalgar Square to "get life back to normal" after the day's protests had caused disruption across central London, the spokesman said.

The atmosphere between protesters and police was less antagonistic than at last week's protests and police have insisted that there was "no intention" to detain protesters. But suspicion remained, with students attempting to avoid what they believed to be police efforts to contain them.

After The Independent yesterday reported that officers formed lines, trying unsuccessfully to block the march off at Aldwych, near the City, a police spokesman last night again denied attempting to "kettle" protesters. The spokesman said officers were instead trying to direct marchers back towards Trafalgar Square, to "keep them all together".

Yesterday, video footage surfaced online which appeared to show a police officer punching a protester. Two short clips show officers moving in to prevent students climbing on to a stone wall. One of the officers is seen to push one protester before punching another in the face and ordering them "back". The Met Police said the videos were "being considered" but added that they were "not aware of any related complaints".

Meanwhile students who have occupied University College London for the past nine days have been told to leave or face legal action to remove them.

Further days of action are believed to be planned next week, as well as on the day of the Commons vote on fees later this month.

Police refused to discuss whether "kettling" would be used at any further protests, a spokesman saying only that the force will employ "a flexible policing plan to be adapted to fit the circumstances on the ground".

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