8 Dec 2013

London’s biggest university bans student protests

Students protesting in an area at the centre of London’s student district could be imprisoned or fined, after the University of London obtains a court order banning protests on campus for six months.

Demonstrators chant slogans during a student rally in central London on November 21, 2012 against sharp rises in university tuition fees, funding cuts and high youth unemployment.

The University of London – a body representing London universities including University College London, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Birkbeck and the London School of Economics – has banned protests on its campus for the next six months.

Students who hold sit-in protests in an area in Holborn, central London, including the Senate House, the student union building, and the buildings of SOAS and Birkbeck, can be imprisoned.

The president of the University of London student union, Michael Chessum, told Channel 4 News it was a “draconian” reaction and “a sign that the university had lost the argument”.

The court order obtained on the 4 December by the University of London bans “occupational protest” in the area for the next six months. Anyone breaching the order can be charged with contempt of court.

Chris Cobb, Chief Operating Officer at the University of London said: “This is a regrettable but necessary step that we have taken in order to prevent the type of violent and intimidating behaviour that we have seen by protesters at Senate House recently.”

Protest ‘ended in violence’

The University of London obtained the court order just after a sit-in protest at the student union on the 4 and 5 December. It was ended by police in violent scenes which resulted in 41 arrests. So far one protester has been charged with common assault, and the remaining 40, including three members of the union leadership, have been released on bail pending further investigations.

The protest had a series of demands calling for the university to pay sick pay to cleaners and asking the university to take a stand on the “marketisation” of higher education. It was supported but not organised by the student union.

The Metropolitan Police said that three police officers suffered minor injuries in the events that unfurled on the 4 December. The Met described what happened that evening this way: “The officers became aware of a large group, of up to 300 people, gathered and making their way along Malet Street. Some had their faces covered, others carrying home made shields. Smoke bombs and other unknown objects were thrown at police.”

Mr Chessum said that police behaviour in dispersing the protest was “at a level of violence beyond anything I’d ever seen before.”

I’ve seen people having their teeth punched out. The police were not turning up with horses and batons they were just swinging punches Michael Chessum

Mr Chessum described the behaviour of some officers and security guards as “like a pub brawl”. He said: “I’ve seen people having their teeth punched out. The police were not turning up with horses and batons they were just swinging punches.”

An official statement from the student union reported violent scenes: “Initial reports indicate that protesters were assaulted by both police and security: thrown to the ground, kicked and punched, and dragged to the ground by their hair. When supporters gathered outside to show support for the occupation, they were beaten back and assaulted.”

Mr Chessum said that the union were also looking into the role that university security staff and administrators played in ending the protest. The union were compiling evidence with a view to making complaints he said.

The police said they have received no complaints regarding the behaviour of officers from anyone involved in this week’s protests and so are not investigating anything. But they have added that they will review what happened.

“As with all large public order incidents, a range of material will now be subject to review in order to establish the full facts,” a statement said.