24 Nov 2010

Student protests in London and across UK

Chief Correspondent

Thousands of students have taken part in rallies against tuition fees. As Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson reports, a police van was attacked and a bus shelter torched in central London.

Thousands of students have taken to the streets in UK-wide protests against increased university tuition fees. In London, demonstrators at one point tried to tip over a police van. Its windshield grill was ripped off and the bonnet sprayed with anti-government graffiti. A bus shelter was also smashed up near the Strand as officers moved in to prevent demonstrators reaching Liberal Democrat headquarters.

Police have arrested 15 people for a range of offences including suspected violent disorder, public order offences and criminal damage. A female police officer has suffered a broken hand. A second male officer was removed from the front line and taken to hospital after appearing to be unconscious.

The latest action follows a day of protests two weeks ago that saw 60 arrested and dozens injured when a riot broke out at Conservative Party headquarters.

There was also a tremendous sense of hope, a sense that they as students had the chance to live up to their billing as radical and active members of society, a sense that they could instigate real change. Fred Mikardo- Greaves, Leeds student

Police were keen to avoid a repeat of the chaos in London on November 10 when the march, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), descended into riots.

Marches have taken place across England and Wales, with school and college students joining the action. Cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester staged protests.

LIVE BLOG: students protest against tuition fees hike

More student protests grip London and cities around the UK.
Students claim van was 'bait', reports Alex Thomson at the protest in central London:
The word from protesters in Whitehall was that the police left their transit there as "bait" for the protest to turn nasty. The reality of it is that it became surrounded by the march and a number of officers were lucky to get out without serious injury.

Never mind this debate though. What I saw perfectly encapsulates today: a group of students, so young as to still be in school uniform, surrounded said van and persuaded the half-hearted and under-equipped would-be attackers to leave the thing alone.

As far as I am aware it is still there with a new gloss of grafitti and various swear words. But it has not been burned. Your average west Belfast teenager might look upon all this as the rather genteel affair that in truth it was.

A bonfire was lit a few yards from the van, but the van unburned. Windows in the Cabinet War Room remain unsmashed. In fact we filmed a large group of students doing the hokey-cokey for all they were worth.

Plenty were telling me on camera how angry they were with those who wanted to have a touch of argy-bargy with the forces of law. They felt the message was getting buried in inevitable headlines about the aggro.

However, there were some - perhaps a few hundred of three thousand or so - who clearly did want trouble. A couple spoke to me on camera , albeit in masks, to explain that, as they see it, violence is the only thing that people take any notice of.

Insofar as TV news is concerned and the media in general, they have something of a point here. As we edit for tonight's programme the story is lead item. I would bet the farm that an entirely peaceful demo would not occupy such a place.

At Cambridge 1,000 students from universities and sixth-form colleges protested. A number of students climbed over railings at the university’s Senate House, where onlookers described the scene as “crazy”.

In Bristol, fireworks were let off by students, with one exploding near a police officer. West Midlands Police said around 40 students staged a “peaceful sit-in” at the University of Birmingham.

In Sheffield 2,000 students and secondary school pupils marched to Sheffield Town Hall for a mass demonstration. Up to 3,000 people staged a noisy but peaceful protest march through Liverpool city centre while in Leeds 1,000 students made their way through the city centre, where a large police presence awaited them.

Leeds student Fred Mikardo-Greaves told Channel 4 News the demonstrations earlier in November had “ignited a spark that has only shone brighter since”.

He said: “All who were there feel scared about the cuts – what it could do to their courses, their departments, and the effect it could have on their families.

“But there was also a tremendous sense of hope, a sense that they as students had the chance to live up to their billing as radical and active members of society, a sense that they could instigate real change. Banners were waved, songs were sung, and the chants, though good-natured, were shouted with genuine potency and passion.

“Even those who have only just begun their university education have been forced into action by the sheer depth of the proposed cuts.”

Student demonstrations in Sheffield.
Channel 4 News Correspondent Darshna Soni in Sheffield:
"Beans on Toast + Fees = just Toast," Just one of the home-made placards bobbing about outside Sheffield Town Hall. There are probably around 800 students (although the NUS claim 2000). Many of the students look very young and told me they're from the local 6th form colleges. "We've all bunked off to be here, because it's us who won't be able to afford to go," one girl told me. She was smoking and asked me not film her, in case her mum was watching.

I have to give them ten out of ten for their efforts with the placards. Most are simply drawn with felt-tip pen on a bit of cardboard (hard times perhaps?)

Some are very witty - others I cannot repeat before the watershed. Most refer to broken promises, including "Don't ConDem our Future."

"Bankers were bailed, britain's youth have been failed."

And "I wud have speld this right if I cud go to uni."

Student admits throwing fire extinguisher

Earlier, 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 protests earlier this month.

He was arrested five days after the clashes 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.”