14 people were arrested at a national student protest at the University of Birmingham yesterday after around 150 people occupied campus buildings and clashed with security guards.
Students accused police of holding protesters in a “kettle” for up to four hours, with no access to food, water or toilet facilities, before making arrests for offences including aggravated trespass, assault and criminal damage. The police deny kettling any “lawful protest”.
Police were called at around 5pm after receiving reports of demonstrators throwing smoke bombs, breaking down doors, and allegations of assault against university staff.
Almost all the protesters were then held in a raised courtyard for several hours, before being searched by police and asked to give their details on camera.
Many students claimed they had witnessed arrests when people refused to give their details to police as a requirement to leave the kettle.
Simon Natas, from law firm ITN Solicitors, told The Independent that the High Court had “ruled that it was unlawful for the police to require people to provide their names and addresses as a condition of release from a kettle or containment”.
“I would find it very disturbing indeed if any police force was still engaging in this practice.”
The demonstration, led by Defend Education Birmingham, was campaigning against the “marketisation” of higher education, including the living wage for university staff and a highest-lowest pay ratio of 10:1.
Kirsty Haigh, an activist and Edinburgh University union officer said: “Universities everywhere are losing the argument on staff exploitation and privatisation – and the only argument we saw from them today was brute force.
“What we saw from management and police today was utterly disgraceful.”
The protest, which was largely peaceful and good-spirited, began at 2:30pm outside the university’s clock tower, before students marched to and entered the Great Hall, occupying it briefly.
One police officer conducting searches told students: “This is a proportionate response to what’s happened today. Anybody obstructing [searches] may be arrested for obstructing a police investigation.”
Alistair Robinson, a student at Leicester University, said he thought the day was successful, but added: “They have criminalised protests on campus and generally in society so there is a need to cover faces and unfortunately a lot of people with covered faces, protesting doesn’t have the wider appeal.
“People have been penalised by universities for protesting.”
Hattie Craig, an officer at Birmingham’s Guild of Students said that some students she represents had claimed they “were dragged to the floor by private security guards by their hair, whilst shouting I’m peaceful, don’t hurt me.” Other students have also alleged they were assaulted by members of security personnel.
A spokesperson for the university said: “While peaceful protest is part of university life, the university will not tolerate behaviour that causes harm to individuals, damage to property or significant disruption to our university community.”
Birmingham Police Superintendent Lee Kendrick said: “This may well have been billed as a peaceful protest but it escalated into a serious public order.”
He added: “We strongly refute any suggestions of containing or ‘kettling’ a lawful protest.”
The protest follows an ongoing student occupation of the university’s Horton Grange conference centre which began last week.
A national week of action is being planned for 6-13 February.
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