Police war on students

by Daphne Liddle

STUDENTS are continuing to demonstrate against the closure of the social centre for London’s 120,000 students following violent clashes with the police last week.

Last Thursday riot police brutally moved in to eject students who had occupied the centre’s admin office in protest against the closure of the University of London Union (ULU) buildings.

These buildings in Malet Street, which include offices, meetings rooms and a bar, have for generations been a popular venue for meetings of left and progressive groups in London, not just students.

The protest also reflected anger at yet another big rise in student union fees and at the University authorities getting a court injunction to ban student protests anywhere on the campus until June next year.

The students returned in greater numbers the next day and with a new demand: “Cops off Campus!”

Again police attacked the protesters and drove them round and about the surrounding streets so that they ended up kettled in Euston Square.

At 5.20pm police began arresting two groups of people who had been kettled in by Euston Square tube station for an hour “to prevent a further breach of the peace” and on suspicion of affray.

The students, including Oscar Webb, the editor of the student union paper who was photographing the protest, were handcuffed and sent to police stations across south London. Two people were also arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.

One man who was handcuffed and driven away in a police van had a crutch. An eyewitness told London Student, the student union journal, that: “The man was walking near the police when they pushed him, and as he fell backwards the police kicked away his crutch before jumping on him”. A second eyewitness made the same claim. After police stepped away from where the man was handcuffed, blood could be seen on the pavement.

Michael Chessum, president of ULU, said the police “were brutal”. He told London Student: “Today there was an unprecedented level of police violence on campus. It was a transparent attempt to assault, intimidate and deflate protest, and it will not work.” He added: “We will only come back stronger.” Chessum also said: “The university has taken this draconian measure because it has lost the arguments on the issues.”

The clashes with the London University students follow a series of unusually violent clashes between police and students throughout the country over the last few months.

Earlier that week, students at the University of Sussex mounted a protest, including an occupation of some university buildings and five students were suspended and excluded from the university.

Labour MP John McDonnell said students were being “persecuted”, but police said they were preventing a breach of peace. He has tabled an early day motion in the Commons, and said: “I am deeply anxious about the whole range of protests that are taking place because they are all peaceful; they are all students seeking to make their voices heard.

“But they’re being met with real intimidation and suspending students for an occupation is not acceptable.”

He added: “It’s outrageous that students exercising their traditional democratic right to protest have been persecuted in this way.”

He said that judging by the television footage, there appeared to have been “real violence” at last week’s London University occupation. This was an “over-reaction”, he said.

He added: “Universities should recognise that students have a right to protest as long as it is peaceful. We should be encouraging people to speak out and exercise their democratic right and to be involved in society.”

Michael Segalov, one of the students suspended indefinitely from Sussex University over the protests, said: “This is an attempt to de-legitimise protests on campus and dissent on universities.

“It is scaremongering so that students are afraid to have their voices heard.”

Another London student, Rebecca Greenford, put it like this: “Teaching staff, clerical staff, cleaners and students all know these changes will damage our education. This week we organised peaceful rallies to make our point in public, but university authorities, Government and police have effectively criminalised dissent.”