24 Nov 2010

Student admits throwing Millbank fire extinguisher

Chief Correspondent

As Edward Woollard pleads guilty to throwing a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank Tower, Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson writes as the student protesters turn their attention to the Lib Dems.

Student admits throwing Millbank fire extinguisher

Student Edward Woollard pleaded guilty at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court to throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of Millbank Tower during the violent student fees protests on 10 November.

Thousands of students gathered at Millbank Tower in central London, home of the Conservative Party, two weeks ago to demonstrate against a rise in university fees.

The student protest ended in violence as demonstrators smashed windows and scrawling graffiti on the walls before breaking through the police line and making their way to the roof.

Edward Woollard, 18, was arrested five days after the clashes in central London and charged with violent disorder after footage emerged of an empty fire extinguisher being thrown from the roof into the crowds below.

Appearing at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court today, his solicitor Matt Foot said: “Mr Woollard is pleading guilty and I make it very clear he is very sorry for his actions.”

A fresh wave of protests are due to be held today as students take to the streets of London.

Organisers said feelings were still running high following the demonstration by 50,000 students and lecturers two weeks ago.

Student admits throwing Millbank fire extinguisher

Students turn their attention to the Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg must take quiet satisfaction in one thing: he’s finally put the Lib Dem HQ on the map of national politics, writes Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson.

Thus today this office in an elegant Westminster side-street is a focus of angry student protest.

Who would have thought it? Lib Dem HQ flanked by cops and probably riot squads later today – after generations of benign irrelevance.

Mr Clegg only upped the ante last night by asking that students do not march, a gesture of breathtaking naivety guaranteed to swell numbers.

Two marches will converge around Whitehall later today and direct action is the only thing on anybody’s lips.

Contemporary British history suggests direct action can be more successful than marches and protests. The biggest march in British history against the Iraq War was a complete failure in terms of changing anything.

History has shown violence to be effective at grabbing headlines.

Outside Millbank I was live for Channel 4 News but then live too for an Australian breakfast show which spoke excitedly of “central London shut down by riots”.

Well, not quite. But would Sydney be calling if this was a peaceful march? Of course not. Would the story have led Channel 4 News and all other national news bulletins that night? Of course not.

And that is why, when you speak to today’s marchers the National Union of Students is perceived as an irrelevant joke. A vast umbrella of other groups now outflanks the NUS in taking protest to the streets.

And that in itself is an interesting sign of the times.

The call by organisers is for today’s protests to be “militant but lawful”. But people know there is very little wiggle-room between militancy and crossing the vast array of laws the police have at their disposal.

And speaking of the police – there will be a lot more of them, a lot more tooled up, than on the day of the Millbank fracas.