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Injured at protest, the student now in court for violent disorder

Alfie Meadows had to have brain surgery after the tuition fees rally, but today he is in the dock himself

Sarah Morrison
Thursday 09 June 2011 00:00 BST

Student Alfie Meadows had to have emergency brain surgery from head injuries he received during a tuition fees protest in December. Today the 21-year-old goes to court on charges of violent disorder at the same demonstration, and faces up to five years in prison.

Mr Meadows, a philosophy undergraduate, said: "I exercised my right to protest against something I feel strongly about. I ended up in hospital after being struck on the head with a police baton. I am now being prosecuted for violent disorder at that protest.

"I strongly deny the charge. The outcome of the investigation of my complaint against the police is due shortly.

"I hope it results in lessons being learnt by the police for the future policing of protests so that no one will ever endure what my family and I have. I am extremely grateful for all of the expressions of concern and support for me by members of the public."

Hundreds of protesters are expected to demonstrate outside Westminster City magistrates' court today, where Mr Meadows and 43 other student activists will appear over the next two days, charged with offences including violent disorder, affray and theft.

Anger from protest groups against policing tactics has been running high, with campaigners from republicans to those demonstrating against tax avoidance, public sector cuts and higher tuition fees being arrested and charged for an assortment of offences. Fifty-five people were detained in a string of pre-emptive arrests on the day of the royal wedding and 145 members of UK Uncut were arrested during an occupation of Fortnum & Mason in March.

Mr Meadows said that it was time "to show we have a right to protest – a right that has come under threat over the last couple of months". He and a fellow protester, Bryan Simpson, have set up an umbrella organisation called Defend the Right to Protest to support arrested students and activists.

"People can come together and realise there is a lot of strong unity behind the right to protest," Mr Meadows said. "It makes you feel less isolated... Support and solidarity is what we need now."

One of Mr Meadows' solicitors, Sarah McSherry, said she had seen the use of "tactics which infringe the right to peaceful protest, privacy and freedom of expression, assembly and movement" over the last few months.

"These include the photographing of protesters, the use of kettling to detain them and obtain their personal details, aggressive policing, particularly to enforce kettles, which places protesters, like Alfie Meadows, at risk of significant harm and the criminalisation of, particularly young, protesters."

Mr Meadows' claim has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Scotland Yard denies that it is cracking down on protests. A spokesman said: "We understand the importance of the right to protest, but people who break the law and endanger those who wish to protest peacefully by committing criminal offences must face the inevitable consequences of their actions."

Last month, an IPCC-supervised inquiry found that police actions were "justifiable" when removing the disabled protester Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair at the student demonstrations. The statement also said there was "evidence" that Mr McIntyre "was inadvertently struck with a police baton".

Mr McIntyre will be one of the protesters staging a "mock trial" of the police outside the court hearings of Mr Meadows and other arrested student protesters today and tomorrow.

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