11 Nov 2010

Police launch probe into student protest violence

The Metropolitan Police have launched an investigation into preparations for yesterday’s student protests, which ended in violent clashes.

David Cameron has welcomed the police inquiry, which will examine why police failed to stop violent clashes which marred protests against a rise in university tuition fees.

Thousands marched through London peacefully, but a minority smashed windows and threw missiles at police outside Tory party headquarters in Millbank.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said the unexpected violence, which led to 51 arrests and 14 people being injured, was an “embarrassment to London” and police.

He pledged to examine the police response to find out what went wrong.

“I think we’ve also got to ask ourselves some questions. This level of violence was largely unexpected and what lessons can we learn for the future. We are already doing that and asking those questions.”

“We’ve also got to ask ourselves some questions. This level of violence was largely unexpected.” Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson

Sir Stephenson also apologised to those who were barricaded inside Millbank tower, saying police were caught out as there was “no real history” of that level of violence during student protests.

“Certainly I am determined to have a thorough investigation into this matter.”

London mayor Boris Johnson condemned the violence and said he was appalled that a small minority “shamefully abused” their right to protest. He warned that those involved with “face the full force of the law”.

The police response to violent protests in central London “clearly did not go to plan” but the blame and responsibility “lies squarely and solely with those who carried it out”, Policing minister Nick Herbert said.

He admitted there was “a question about how and when they deployed” but insisted that the force “has sufficient resources” to deal with such protests, and will continue to have resources to deal with them despite the 20% police cuts outlined in the Government’s spending review.

“The police have to strike a balance between dealing promptly and robustly with violent and unlawful activity on the one hand, and allowing the right to protest on the other.

“Yesterday did not go to plan and the police will learn the lessons – but the blame and responsibility for yesterday’s appalling scenes of violence lies squarely and solely with those who carried it out.”

An angry stand-off ensued as a handful of police officers attempted to stop more people entering the building as up to 50 protesters ran amok inside, smashing windows and hurling missiles from the seventh-floor rooftop.

The police inquiry is likely to focus on police preparation for the march, including the decision to categorise it as low risk and to draft in only around 225 officers to marshal more than 50,000 people.

“We need to make sure that that behaviour does not go unpunished.” David Cameron

National Union of Students president Aaron Porter told Channel 4 News the violence as “despicable” and said a minority of protesters who planned to cause trouble had “hijacked” the march.

Prime Minister David Cameron also condemned the violence, which he says must “not go unpunished”.

Police launch probe into violent student protests

“As the police themselves have said, there weren’t enough of them and the police response needs to reflect that,” he said.

“I was worried for the safety of people in the building because I know people who work in there, not just the Conservative Party but other offices as well,”

“And we need to make sure that that behaviour does not go unpunished and we need to make sure that we don’t, as the police put it, see scenes like that on London’s streets again.

“Of course people have a right to protest peacefully, but I saw pictures of people who were bent on violence and on destruction and on destroying property and that is completely unacceptable.

Mr Cameron insisted that the new fees structure – under which universities can charge up to £9,000 a year for tuition – was “a more progressive system” than the one that it will replace.

“I think the right place for the debate and argument to take place is in Parliament, is in debates rather than the scenes that we saw.

“But of course people have a right to protest and I’m sure that people will do that – as they do under all governments and as always happened in our country. But the scenes of our violence, that is not acceptable.”

FactCheck – Student fees: will higher earners pay back ‘over the odds’?