2010 UK student protests
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The 2010 British student protests were a series of demonstrations that began in November 2010 in several areas of the United Kingdom, with the focal point of protests centred in London. The initial event was the largest student protest in Britain since the Labour government first proposed the Teaching and Higher Education Act in 1998. Largely student-led, the protests were held in opposition to planned spending cuts to further education and an increase of the cap on tuition fees by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. The proposed budget reduction followed a review into higher education funding in England conducted by Lord Browne. Student groups said that the intended cuts to education were excessive and broke campaign promises made by politicians, amounting to "attempts to force society to pay for a crisis it didn't cause."
The first major demonstration occurred on 10 November and was jointly organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU). Arriving from all regions of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, approximately 30,000 to 52,000 protesters attended the demonstration on the streets of central London. Further protests were held on 24 and 30 November, and 9 December, with students holding rallies and occupying government and university buildings. Organisers said that most of the protests were peaceful, but sporadic acts of violence and vandalism were reported by authorities; protesters and police officers alike were injured, and in some cases hospitalised. In one incident, a motorcade carrying Their Royal Highnesses Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was attacked on Regent Street, which almost resulted in bodyguards drawing their weapons.
- 1 Background
- 2 10 November
- 3 24 November
- 4 30 November
- 5 9 December
- 6 Street medics
- 7 Influence
- 8 Legal case against newspapers
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Prior to the British General Election in May 2010, the Labour Party government commissioned a study into higher education funding in England entitled the Browne Review. At the time Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, pledged that he would vote against any proposed increase in tuition fees if elected to Parliament. Following the election and resulting hung parliament, he made an agreement with the Conservative Party to form a coalition government. The Browne Review was subsequently published in October 2010, and contained the suggestion that the government should remove outright the existing cap of £3,290 on tuition fees. The government rejected this proposal, instead choosing to keep a cap but increased to £9,000. David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, stated that the measures were "a very progressive package" and "at the end of this we will have a better university system than we have at the moment." Nick Clegg also changed his position on the issue once in government, supporting the rise in tuition fees, and on the day of the protests, in Parliament, defended his change of position on fees and supported the proposals for an increase.
Student union leaders, however, were critical of the cuts. David Barclay, the president of the University of Oxford's student union, said: "This is the day a generation of politicians learn that though they might forget their promises, students won't." Similarly, Rahul Mansigani, the students' union president for the University of Cambridge, said: "Large numbers of students voted for the Liberal Democrats, and there is no question that the pledge is a binding commitment." It was widely believed by the NUS and their supporters that the increased cap on tuition fees would prevent potential students from poorer backgrounds from attending university.
Two weeks before, on 28 October, a protest was held in the University of Oxford to coincide with a visit from the Liberal Democrat minister and Business Secretary Vince Cable. Cable cancelled his visit after taking advice from the police about the protest. Several days later, on 3 November, there was a student protest in Dublin. The subsequent London protest was described by one Irish reporter as "scenes bizarrely similar" to those in the Irish capital.
The focal point of the first demonstration involved a number of protesters occupying 30 Millbank in Westminster, that houses the headquarters of the Conservative Party, and led to clashes with police during which 14 were injured and 50 arrested.
The official route of the first demonstration, officially known as "Fund Our Future: Stop Education Cuts", and also known as "Demo 2010" or "Demo-lition 10.11.10", was pre-approved with the Metropolitan Police Service, and marchers moved from Whitehall past Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister, and then past the Houses of Parliament, chanting such slogans as "no ifs, no buts – no education cuts", "they say cut back – we say fight back", "I say Tories – you say scum". Commenting upon the behaviour of the protesters, one journalist, Harry Mount of The Daily Telegraph, said: "Perhaps because their cause was justified, the students I saw had none of the swaggering, self-righteous manner of the student protester of legend."
Political groups that sent contingents to take part included the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Revolution, Young Communist League, Revolutionary Communist Group and Communist Students. The Scottish National Party were absent. A few Members of Parliament joined the demonstration, among them Labour MP John McDonnell, who told reporters: "This is the biggest workers' and students' demonstration in decades. It just shows what can be done when people get angry. We must build on this". Representatives of the National Pensioners Convention also took part in the march. Janet Shapiro, who carried a banner for the National Pensioner's Convention said: "We're here because we believe education should be free, funded by the taxpayer. It is something that benefits the community, the country. Young people shouldn't start life with large debts that are worse than mortgages."
At the end of the march, a rally took place outside Tate Britain where demonstrators were addressed by Sally Hunt, the University and College Union general secretary, who introduced a series of clips displayed on a giant plasma screen featuring Nick Clegg giving a series of promises to the electorate on tuition fees, all of which he subsequently had broken. During this, Hunt said that, making the Public University system in Britain "the most expensive in the world" isn't fair, that discouraging young people from going to college was not progressive, and that whatever the increase in tuition fees are called they are in reality, debts.
The rally was also addressed by the NUS president Aaron Porter, and the Trades Union Congress deputy general secretary, Frances O'Grady, the latter who offered the message to the government: "Don't you dare tell us we're all in this together. The deficit certainly wasn't caused by the students."
The protest was scheduled to end at 2 pm, but slightly overran. The Metropolitan Police were only expecting 20,000 demonstrators to turn out, well below the 50,000 figure most widely quoted in the press after the event, and did not expect any violence, so deployed only 225 officers to police the event.
Vandalism and disruption
In the afternoon, as protesters passed the Houses of Parliament and moved on towards Tate Britain for the rally, several thousand, despite attempts by NUS organisers to stop them, surrounded 30 Millbank, campaign headquarters of the Conservative Party. Forcing their way past the limited police presence, approximately two hundred people broke in and occupied the building, whilst a thousand more cheered and supported them from outside. These protesters lit placards on fire, and smashed windows before occupying and vandalising the reception area. Staff working in the building were subsequently evacuated by police around 1 pm. Around 100 protesters proceeded to the roof of the building, chanting slogans including "Greece! France! Now here too".
Initial press sources blamed this action on a group of anarchists. However, a later source claimed that the action at Millbank was instead caused by "students radicalised by cuts". Patrick Smith of The Guardian stated: "Speaking to the people inside the building... revealed a different story [to that of initial press reports].... Those dressed in black were students too, and several fresh-faced, excited students said this was their first demonstration.... This tells a different story to the one told by those wishing to discredit the protest as just a small bunch of troublemakers kicking off." In fact, there is no contradiction between these two claims. Though the press presented "anarchists" as an outside group, alien to the protests, many students who held anarchist beliefs were active in the student movement.
Riot police from the Territorial Support Group arrived an hour after the building was occupied to remove the protesters. According to some sources, those police who attempted to remove the protesters from the building were pelted with eggs, rotten fruit, banners, and shards of glass in retaliation. One of the roof protesters later threw a fire extinguisher onto the police below, but received instant criticism from some of the protesting crowds, who called on them to "stop throwing shit". In order to control the situation, police decided to use the controversial technique of kettling to keep the protesters trapped within Millbank Square, which is the forecourt to 30 Millbank, whilst those protesters who were outside were pushed back. The police began letting demonstrators out of the building from 6:30 pm onwards, arresting those whom they believed were responsible for vandalism.
The demonstration led to a disruption in transport around the city, with journalist Harry Mount stating: "I have never seen London traffic so jammed in 39 years living in the city." Alongside the occupation of Millbank, a smaller number of protesters had travelled to the headquarters of the Liberal Democrats in Cowley Street, where a car window was smashed. In all, 14 people were injured and required hospitalisation, at least three of whom were police officers, whilst police arrested 35 of the demonstrators, sending them off to various police stations around the city. Later accounts that the numbers arrested had risen to 54, (33 men and 21 women), ten of whom were aged under 18 and the majority of whom were students. On 16 November, an 18-year-old student from Brockenhurst College, Edward Woollard, was arrested for attempted murder in connection with throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of 30 Millbank during the occupation of the building. He was arrested in Southampton and transferred to London where he was questioned. He subsequently went on trial for violent disorder rather than attempted murder, something for which he pleaded guilty, which carried with it a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment under the Public Order Act[disambiguation needed]. On 11 January 2011 Woollard was sentenced to 32 months in a young offenders institution.
Response to the Millbank occupation
Students and unions
The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, condemned the attack on 30 Millbank, claiming that it was caused by "those who are here to cause trouble" and that he was "disgusted that the actions of a minority of idiots are trying to undermine 50,000 who came to make a peaceful protest." Similarly, Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, also condemned the occupation, declaring that "the overwhelming majority of staff and students on the march came here to send a clear and peaceful message to the politicians.... The actions of a minority, out of 50,000 people, is regrettable." David Barclay, the president of the University of Oxford's students' union, issued a statement in which he stated that "OUSU supports the rights of students to protest non-violently. It is hugely unfortunate that some people yesterday were injured and that arrests were made."
In contrast with this, positive reaction for elements of the occupation of 30 Millbank was expressed by some student leaders, trade unionists and academics. Amongst others, the president of University of London Union Clare Solomon, the Education Officer of the London School of Economics, Ashok Kumar, the Education and Campaigns Officer at University College London, Michael Chessum, the National Union of Students' black students' officer Kanjay Sesay, the NUS' LGBT students' officers Vicki Baars and Alan Bailey, the President of the RMT trade union Alex Gordon and the playwright Lee Hall all signed a statement in which they declared that:
We reject any attempt to characterise the Millbank protest as small, "extremist" or unrepresentative of our movement. We celebrate the fact that thousands of students were willing to send a message to the Tories that we will fight to win. Occupations are a long established tradition in the student movement that should be defended. It is this kind of action in France and Greece that has been an inspiration to many workers and students in Britain faced with such a huge assault on jobs, benefits, housing and the public sector. We stand with the protesters, and anyone who is victimised as a result of the protest.
Solomon also told the BBC that she believed that there was "no problem with direct actions or occupation", and when questioned regarding the damage done to Millbank, responded that "these were a few windows of the Tory Party headquarters – what they're doing to our education is absolutely millions... and they want to complain about a few windows." Some socialist and student commentators have criticised Porter and the NUS for their response to both this situation and others, characterising them as 'careerist'. Meanwhile, various university Conservative societies around London condemned the protests, and criticised students' unions "for creating false impression that the majority of students are left-wing" and opposed to the governments' proposed cuts.
Government and press
The Metropolitan Police Service admitted that they were unprepared to deal with the occupation of 30 Millbank, something which they had not been expecting. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police's Commissioner, told the press that he was "embarrassed" by how police had lost control of the situation, and condemned what he saw as "thuggish, loutish behaviour by criminals." Stephenson also emphasised the individuals working in the Millbank complex, remarking that "the one thing I would say is that it must have been an awful time for the people trying to go about their daily business in those buildings. I feel terribly sorry that they have had to go through what must have been quite a traumatic experience… We are determined to make sure that sort of thing does not happen again on our streets. I'm clear on that, the Met is clear on that." His views were echoed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who stated: "This is intolerable and all those involved will be pursued and they will face the full force of the law… The Metropolitan Police commissioner has assured me that there will be a vigorous post-incident investigation. He will also be reviewing police planning and response."
Prime Minister David Cameron also condemned the actions at Millbank, and said he would not abandon his position on the issue of education cuts. Speaking in South Korea, where he was attending the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit, Cameron said the occasion had been "extremely serious" and praised the bravery of the police officers. He also stated that the actions of the protesters were "unacceptable" and that "I was worried for the safety of the people in the building because I know people who work there". Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on ITV's Daybreak the morning after: "I should have been more careful perhaps in signing that pledge [to not increase tuition fees]… At the time [prior to his election] I really thought we could do it. I just didn't know, of course, before we came into government, quite what the state of the finances were."
A reporter from The Daily Telegraph said that the "anarchic behaviour" of those occupying Millbank was "counter-productive" to the students' cause, and that it was the photographs of "a few hundred vicious hotheads" that would "linger" in the public imagination rather than that of the main march. The Financial Times reported that an anonymous vice-chancellor from a London university had told them that the violence would undermine the campaign, and that it "could not have gone better for the government. George Osborne will be delighted."
There were also two smaller peaceful protests in Manchester and Cambridge as the protest sparked further action in the following days. On 11 November, a group of student protesters occupied a building at the University of Manchester for three hours, demanding to see the accounts that discussed how government spending cuts would affect students. At one point between 60 and 100 students held a peaceful sit-in at Manchester's John Owens Building on Oxford Road after an NUS meeting earlier that day. Representing this group, protester Jeremy Buck said: "This is just what a few students who had the energy left after the London demo managed to achieve… Imagine what will happen when they have enough time to organise properly for the 24th. It is a matter of watch this space." That same day, protesters at the University of Cambridge held a demonstration against the cuts at the university's annual science, engineering and technology careers fair.
In a similar vein, on 23 November, anti-education cuts protesters had assembled outside of the offices of The Guardian newspaper, where Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was giving his Hugo Young lecture, in which they sentenced and executed an effigy of Clegg by hanging and shouted the slogan "Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue".
An organisation known as the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) organised a mass national walk-out of education and protest for 24 November. As a part of this, demonstrations were held in London and other locations across the United Kingdom. According to a group on the social networking website Facebook, 25,000 people had signed up to take the day off from studies and protest prior to the actual event, and these protesters included not only university students, but also school children who had walked out of lessons to join the demonstration. The NCAFC encouraged protesters to use social media to invite others to join them:
...chalk the details on the pavement outside your place of education... request that folk "send the text viral" – ie text it to their own friends to text on to their friends … Send texts to all your friends in different schools and colleges telling them you've walked out...
One of those protesting was Jessica Linley, a law student at the University of Nottingham who had been crowned Miss England in September 2010 and who used her status to gain media coverage for the cause, telling press that she would not be able to afford to go to university if the tuition fees were increased, and that "these sweeping austerity measures are unacceptable."
Believing that they had a lack of officers at the first demonstration on 10 November, the Metropolitan Police drafted in 1,000 police officers from across Greater London to oversee the event, almost five times the number that they had employed before. The police officer responsible for monitoring domestic extremism meanwhile told the press on 23 November that he planned to monitor fringe elements amongst the demonstrators whom he felt would encourage peaceful protest to "spill over into vandalism and violence".
Several thousand protesters in central London gathered in Trafalgar Square in the late morning, most of whom were students or school children, many who clambered over the statues surrounding Nelson's Column, before moving on towards Whitehall shouting the slogan, "fuck David Cameron". As they reached Whitehall just before 1 pm, police prevented the protesters from reaching Parliament Square and the Houses of Parliament, setting up a line of riot police to kettle the protesters. One reporter from The Guardian described the crowd at this point as being "predominantly good natured, although very noisy". Nonetheless, the demonstrators tried to push through the police line, leading to clashes. An unoccupied police van which had been left in the midst of the crowd was vandalised; protesters rocked it back and forth, climbed on its roof, smashed its windows, wrote graffiti on it and threw a smoke bomb inside. A group of school girls, however – most wearing school uniform – encircled the van, urging people not to vandalise it, and one of them, Zoe Williams, later told reporters that "I was just trying to get across to [the vandals] that the cause that we're here for today isn't about 'I hate the police, I want to burn the police and I want to destroy everything they represent.'"
At around 6 pm, mounted police charged at the north end of the crowd in order to push them back. Police denied this was a charge and was simply crowd control using horses. Roughly 1,000 protesters were able to break free of the police kettle, running throughout many areas of central London whilst being pursued by police, leading one reporter who was there, The Guardian's Paul Lewis, to state that "police were caught in a game of cat and mouse, along Charing Cross, Covent Garden and Picadilly Circus. The mice (or at least those we were with) were eventually trapped along a side street." Meanwhile some of these escaping protesters committed acts of vandalism along many of the side streets, including knocking over rubbish bins and throwing traffic cones into the road.
Meanwhile, approximately 200 protesters, who were unable to escape, remained kettled in Whitehall. Police informed the press that those in the crowd were provided with toilet facilities and water. Nonetheless, individuals in the crowd, using social media, disputed this claim, with Clare Solomon, the president of the ULU, stating through Facebook that "we're still illegally kettled in the freezing cold on Whitehall. No food, water or toilets despite what the police are telling the media. Thousands of young people needing to go home." Shouting out that it was to keep them warm in the cold night, protesters set fire to a ticket machine that was within the kettled area, prompting the police to send approximately 20 officers in riot gear into the midst of the crowd to secure the machine and put out the flames, whilst a fire engine also turned up at the scene. From 9 to 10 pm, the rest of the Whitehall protesters were finally allowed out of the kettled crowd by the police, approximately nine to ten hours after they had first been contained. some were subject to police searches as they were let out.
During the clashes between riot police and demonstrators at Whitehall, police arrested 41 protesters. A number of individuals were also injured, including seven police officers and 11 others. Some protesters also vandalised several buses, with windows being broken on two routes and various bus stops in central London being damaged. A spokesperson for Transport for London, the organisation responsible for the bus service, stated: "We know that bus shelters and ticket machines along Whitehall have been severely damaged and we're checking to see what other damage has been caused. As the protest moved on during the day we had to put in place rolling diversions to keep buses away from it."
In July 2011, three school children will challenge the kettling of children at the 24 November 2010 protest. They will seek a Judicial Review in the High Court, arguing in particular that children had a right to protest and that their safety was jeopardised, breaking the laws of the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 2004,
Occupations and Local Protests 
In London, student protesters occupied buildings belonging to a number of different universities in order to protest. At 4 pm on 23 November, protesting students occupied the picture gallery corridor, a part of the administrative wing of Royal Holloway, University of London London, in protest against the cuts. They were later joined by supportive members of staff at the university who took part in what was labelled a "teach-in". At 11.15 am on 24 November, the Language Centre at London South Bank University was occupied for 51 hours by over 100 students as part of the 'Defend LSBU! Defend Our Education!' campaign to fight cuts and job losses at the university. On the afternoon of the 24 November, a group of students and supporters went into occupation of Appleton Tower at the University of Edinburgh, stating "We stand firm alongside all other students, university staff and others nationwide affected by education cuts and the risk this poses to the future of higher education." Following this, at 12:17 pm on 24 November, a group of students occupied the Jeremy Bentham Room at the centre of University College London, stating that they were protesting against "savage cuts to higher education and government attempts to force society to pay for a crisis it didn't cause." One reporter, from the BBC, visited the occupation, and remarked that of the protesters, "they seem as distant from the old left as they do from the new right" and that "you get a reminder that these are students born in the 1990s. They're quoting Harry Potter rather than Che Guevara." Student protesters also occupied the University of East London, demanding that university managers "put pressure on the government on the issue of H[higher] E[ducation] cuts and tuition fee rises".
Aside from those in the capital, students protested against fee rises and education cuts across the nation, with students occupying their university buildings in protest at at least 12 universities. At University Place in Manchester, 3,000 students assembled to demonstrate, but several hundred of them broke away to march towards the town hall. A group of about 100 occupied a lecture theatre in the Roscoe Building. At the University of Oxford university sixth form students initially occupied the Radcliffe Camera. At the University of Cambridge, 200 students scaled the fence of Senate House and marched onto the grounds of King's College, then on the 26th students started an 11-day occupation of part of Old Schools, the main administrative block of the University. At the University of Bristol, 2,000 protesters clashed with police when they tried to move into the city centre. Four were arrested. In Brighton, 3,000 demonstrators marched throughout the city, with nearly 50 occupying a university building. Hundreds of students from Kingston University and various local schools staged an impromptu march through the town and a sit down protest at College Roundabout, leading to one arrest. In the morning of 24 November, demonstrators at the University of Birmingham occupied the Aston Webb building, the site of the Prime Ministerial debates earlier in the year; they issued a statement in which they declared that "we believe the government's cuts to be economically unnecessary, unfair and ideologically motivated" and that "if [the government] continue to destroy the livelihoods of the majority to benefit the rich and powerful minority, they will face increasingly widespread and radical action." In Leeds, protesters amassed at the University of Leeds. Hundreds of them had walked out of the local Allerton Grange High School to join the demonstration, and later occupied the Michael Sadler lecture theatre. A room at Leeds Metropolitan University was also occupied, as was a room at the University of Plymouth. In Cardiff, around 200 protesters, after rallying outside Cardiff University, entered the building, and failing to gain entry to the vice chancellor's building, instead occupied a lecture theatre. The longest occupations were at the University of Kent and the University of the West of England, both occupying for just under a month.
|“||"The great majority of protests across the country [on Wednesday] passed off peacefully… The police let the demonstrators march through town centres and take part in some direct action. However, the actions of the Metropolitan Police yesterday were absolutely outrageous. It's a real scandal that the Met has taken these actions and we would urge them to change their tactics for further demonstrations."||”|
During the Whitehall incident, the police publicly defended their use of kettling in dealing with the crowd to the press, with Chief Inspector Jane Connors claiming that they had only decided to use it as "a last resort" and that "it's a valid tactic. Police officers came under attack and we needed to make sure the violence didn't spread out across the London streets." Such a claim was however disputed by MP and leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, who brought up the topic in the neighbouring House of Commons that afternoon, stating that "there are many hundreds of students and school children who have been kettled for over four hours and are going to be out there for another several hours, according to the police, in the freezing cold… whatever one thinks of the student protest, [holding people against their will in the contained crowd was] neither proportionate, nor, indeed, effective." Following their actions, the police came upon increasing criticism for their use of kettling, particularly due to the fact that there were large numbers of children and young teenagers in the mostly-peaceful crowd, who were held for hours in near-zero temperatures. At a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority the following day, the Metropolitan Police's Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, supported the tactics, claiming that "we did get it right", but was heavily criticised in a "terse exchange" by Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, who told him that "when you imprison thousands of people, which is essentially what you did yesterday, you do have a duty of care to them... You kept people for nine-and-a-half hours. You punished innocent people for going on a protest."
Stephenson once again condemned the actions of protesters at Whitehall, just as he had done with the situation at Millbank, stating that "we have not seen this sort of behaviour for some considerable time… it was thuggery, it was disgraceful, [and] we are determined to find [those responsible for vandalism]." He further warned that "the likelihood is for more disorder on our streets. We must be prepared for it." A spokesperson for the Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated that "people have a right to engage in lawful and peaceful protest, but there is no place for violence or intimidation", whilst government education minister David Willetts responded by claiming that protesting students did not understand the government's plans. Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated on BBC Radio 2 that "I hate in politics, as in life, to make promises that you then find you can't keep. We made a promise we can't deliver – we didn't win the election outright and there are compromises in coalition." Meanwhile the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, responded to the events by stating that he would not rule out joining further demonstrations, and remarking that "I was quite tempted to go out and talk to them [the protesters]. Peaceful demonstrations are part of our society. As Labour leader I am willing to talk to people who are part of them."
Central London protests
Further protests in central London took place on Tuesday 30 November, a day that saw cold temperatures and snow in the city. Protesters initially assembled at Trafalgar Square, but a line of police officers were preventing their march down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament, the same route that they had taken the week before. Due to the tactics which they had used, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts accused the Metropolitan Police of "pre-emptively block[ing]" the protest route. Subsequently, the protesters, who feared that the police would simply try to kettle them in Trafalgar Square (in a similar manner to how they had kettled them at Whitehall on 24 November), began dispersing across the centre of the city, running through many streets pursued by police. Other police officers instead stood at the side, photographing and filming the students for later identification, whilst police vans blocked off certain streets. Some of the protesters were chanting "Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!", whilst others chanted "no ifs, no buts, no education cuts", and others played reggae music from a portable stereo system or blew vuvuzelas. Many protesters ran onto Pall Mall and then past St. James's Park, but were denied access to Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament, by police. They therefore turned back around and headed in the direction of Westminster Abbey. One reporter from The Guardian, who was at the scene, noted that by this point, "the march is fracturing – people are going up different streets and getting lost. Texts come through from the front, giving information." The reporter also noted that police continued to pursue protesters, and that "it feels like 'kiss chase' – or, when I see a policeman punch a boy out of the way, entirely without provocation, 'punch chase'."
Eventually, many of the protesters returned to Trafalgar Square, where they were still unable to march down to Whitehall due to a heavy police line. The police soon kettled those who were in Trafalgar Square, whilst some of those there – and who had expected such a tactic – waved banners with slogans such as "Don't put the kettle on, Mr. Cameron" and "I Can't Believe It's Not Thatcher". The police "put lines [of officers] across all the exits" to the kettled area of the Square, but reportedly allowed small groups of protesters to leave, even though the majority, around 150 to 200, decided to stay and continue protesting in the snow. Some protesters burned placards and one spray-painted the word "Revolution" onto Nelson's Column, a monument commemorating the death of Admiral Nelson. Others threw plastic bottles and fireworks at the police lines, and at one point there "was a scuffle as a knot of policemen rushed one of the protesters, grabbing him to arrest him, and the crowd flocked angrily to the area." At another time, a group of riot police moved into the crowd of protesters in order to attempt to secure Nelson's Column, only to be surrounded by demonstrators shouting "Who's kettling who? We're kettling you!" Other slogans shouted at police during the protest included "Shame on you!" and "Your job's next".
One BBC reporter, Heather Sharp, talked to members of the protest, and learned that there were those who both wanted a peaceful protest and those that felt that a violent clash with the police would be necessary, whilst others commented on how they disliked the way that the media was characterising them; one commented that "I hate the way [the government and press] try and blame it on a small minority, everyone here is angry – it's not a small group of hardcore anarchists, it's just students who are very, very angry."
By the end of the day, police had arrested 146 demonstrators who had refused to leave Trafalgar Square; 139 of them were arrested for breach of the peace, whilst seven were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder. Seven more had been arrested in central London earlier in the day. As one reporter noted, "above us, on the steps of the National Gallery, tourists look confused at this vision of Britain 2010, angry and fighting in the snow."
The night before, on 28 November, a crowd of two to three hundred protesters gathered outside of Lewisham Town Hall in Catford, south London, where a council meeting was then in progress, in order to protest against wider public sector cuts. Several Youtube videos of the incident were shown on national news, including the BBC. Many of the protesters had come from nearby sixth forms (due to potential Education Maintenance Allowance cuts) and also from Goldsmiths College. Demonstrators, playing music and political slogans from boomboxes forced their way into the building, where a smoke bomb was let off, while another protester climbed onto the roof and unfurled a banner. Several more flares were set off outside and windows smashed, with riot police from the Territorial Support Group close by, were called and several arrests were made. One of the protesters, Sue Luxton, a former Green Party councillor who had subsequently become a teacher, told the press that "I wanted to peacefully express my anger at the cuts... People were angry that they couldn't get in." Jeremy Burton, the Lewisham Borough Commander, later told press that "unfortunately due to the actions of a minority of people present a number of my officers were injured whilst carrying out their police duties", with 16 officers being treated for minor injuries.
On the day of the main demonstration, there were also further protests across the United Kingdom, including in Cardiff, Cambridge, Colchester, Newcastle, Bath, Leeds, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Belfast, Brighton, York, Manchester, Plymouth, Scunthorpe and Bristol. About 1,500 students, including school children, took part in the protest in Brighton, whilst protests in Bristol involved police being pelted with mustard and ten demonstrators were arrested. In Sheffield, police were pelted with snowballs as they guarded the constituency office of Nick Clegg from a crowd of two hundred protesters. The British protests coincided with those in Italy, where demonstrations occurred in Milan, Turin, Naples, Venice, Palermo, Bari, Genoa, and Rome where riot police were called in to prevent students from gaining access to the parliament building.
Meanwhile, whilst occupations that had begun the previous week continued at University College London, Newcastle University and the University of Cambridge, a new one began at the University of Nottingham, where 150 protesters occupied a building. University buildings and local government buildings were occupied in Birmingham and Oxford while police blocked an attempt at occupation of the council building in York. The protesters occupying the council chamber in Birmingham left after four hours, with a police spokesperson commending the protesters for their "wholly peaceful" behaviour, and noting that it "couldn't have been more different from the violent clashes seen recently in London".
Parliament Square protest
On Thursday 9 December, the day of the scheduled vote on education reform in the Houses of Parliament, two separate protests were organised in central London; one being led by the National Union of Students (NUS), the other jointly by the University of London Union (ULU) and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), with an expected 40,000 people attending. ULU members handed out green hard hats with the words "Tax the banks, not the students" on them, whilst a rally was held in Bloomsbury at midday, where such speakers as Clare Solomon, president of ULU, addressed the crowd.
Along the roads next to the Houses of Parliament, the Metropolitan Police had positioned lines of officers in riot clothing, along with several police vans, blocking any protesters from getting to the building. The force's superintendent Julia Pendry issued a statement in which she stated that "Protesters will be allowed sight and sound of parliament. However, there is evidence to suggest a number of people will come to London intent on causing violence and disorder. They are jumping on the bandwagon of these demonstrations with no intention to protest or interest in student tuition fees… those who are intent on committing crime will also be dealt with and they will suffer the consequences of their actions."
Shortly after 2 pm, the protesters, having marched from Bloomsbury, reached Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament, where they pushed down the metal barriers and occupied the central grassy area of the square. Protesters began lighting fires using their placards, and a giant "NO" was painted onto the grass in the middle of the Square.
Around 3:30 pm, police kettled those several thousand protesters who were in the square, preventing any of them from leaving, and stating that it was "due to the level of violence that our officers are facing." Subsequently, mounted police charged into the crowd on one side of the Square in an attempt to disperse them. A field hospital was set up on the green providing emergency first aid to protestors as well as tea and food within the containment area. Around 30 protestors were treated, most for head injuries. Police used batons to hit protesters, and a St John Ambulance member told press that he had treated ten protesters for head injuries from being struck by police batons by 4.30 pm. One protester, philosophy student Alfie Meadows, suffered a blow to the head allegedly from a police truncheon that knocked him unconscious. Being taken to hospital, it was discovered that he was suffering from bleeding of the brain, and required brain surgery. In 2012, Meadows and four other men were charged with taking part in sustained and widespread violent disorder during the demonstration; in 2013, all were found not guilty. One journalist who witnessed the clashes between police and students, Jonathan Haynes of The Guardian, characterised the police tactics as "very heavy handed".
Meanwhile, police told press that they were allowing those protesters who were young or vulnerable to leave the kettle, but those inside the Square commented that in actuality this was not always happening, and journalists within the kettle noted that the majority of protesters were unaware that they could technically leave. Reporter Jonathan Haynes noted that at this point police were refusing to let him or anyone else leave the kettle, even though he showed them his media card.
At 5:41 pm, news reached the protesters that the government had voted to support the proposals. Clashes ensued between the crowd and the police, and the protesters pulled along metal fencing to separate themselves from riot police, who were trying to push them all into the centre of the Square. Later on in the evening, with the protesters still kettled in the Square, masked protesters smashed all of the windows on the ground floor of Her Majesty's Treasury. At 9:15 pm the protest was forced onto Westminster Bridge where it was kettled until approximately 23:30.
Protests elsewhere in central London
Due to the Parliament Square protest being kettled, many other demonstrators could not enter the Square and so disseminated across much of the rest of central London. Some were separately kettled around The Cenotaph, where Charlie Gilmour, the adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and a student at Girton College, Cambridge, was pictured swinging from a Union Flag on the memorial; he later apologised, claiming that he "did not realise" it was the Cenotaph. Gilmour was also photographed attempting to start a fire at the Supreme Court; and tossing a lump of concrete while wearing latex gloves.
Meanwhile, many of those students who remained around the area of Trafalgar Square continued to protest, with about 150 holding a sit-in in the adjacent National Gallery, while others attempted to set fire to the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree.
During the protests, a car taking The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to the evening's Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium was attacked on Regent Street and Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed a protester 'made contact' with Camilla. In Oxford Street, Topshop was damaged, as rioters sprayed "pay your tax" on the building and broke windows.
Home Secretary Theresa May issued a statement in which she "utterly condemned" the actions of the protesters, and declared that "What we are seeing in London tonight, the wanton vandalism, smashing of windows, has nothing to do with peaceful protest... Attacks on police officers and property show that some of the protesters have no respect for London or its citizens."
Nearly 50 people complained to the IPCC about police behaviour during the various protests held around the country, with the majority directed against the Metropolitan Police, including complaints of violence used against protesters.
Following the protests, video footage of Jody McIntyre, who has cerebral palsy, being pulled out of his wheelchair by police, who claimed they were acting in the interest of his own safety (he had positioned himself to the front-line facing the police) was posted to YouTube. The footage showed him being pulled out of his wheelchair and dragged across the ground by officers from the Metropolitan Police during the protests. McIntyre said he had been pulled out of his wheelchair twice; only one incident was shown in the video footage. An interview with McIntyre about the incident by BBC journalist Ben Brown on 13 December 2010 was described by The Guardian newspaper as "having a distinct lack of sympathy from the BBC" and that the incident had "attracted thousands of complaints." Mcintyre's complaint was later rejected by Scotland Yard. His subsequent appeal was partually upheld by the IPCC.
Street medics treated student protesters during the parliament square protest on Thursday 9 December, the day of the scheduled vote to raise university tuition fees. A field tent was set up on the green providing emergency first aid to protesters as well as tea and food within the containment area. Around 30 protesters were treated, most for head injuries.
On 30 November, following the third main day of protesting, the Welsh Assembly announced that it would not permit an increase in fees for Welsh students. A reporter from the BBC noted that this meant that if the plans went through in England, "it would mean that an English student at a university in England could pay more than £17,000 more for a three-year degree than a Welsh student on the same course." .
A writer in British newspaper The Guardian, writing several hours before the government vote on the topic, noted that "It seems likely the tuition fees bill will pass but I'd still argue that – whatever your view on the merits of the new fees system – the protests have been a success at least in calling politicians to account for broken pledges, something you see rarely theses [sic] days."
As a result of the student protests, numerous groups opposing the Coalition government's austerity measures have sprung up over the country, one example being Bloomsbury Fightback! which is based in Bloomsbury, London and was formed by radical students and workers, primarily from the University of London. The anti-tax evasion group UK Uncut also has a sizeable overlap with student activists who were politicised during the student protests, and it was common for UK Uncut direct actions to take place during the student demos.
Legal case against newspapers
After a five-day trial in the High Court in June 2012, 27-year-old assistant tutor Luke Cooper, reported to be completing a PhD in international relations at the University of Sussex, was awarded £35,000 over a front page Evening Standard article and £25,000 over a follow-up piece in the Daily Mail that implied he was the "ringleader" of the protesters who invaded the Conservative Party's headquarters. Cooper complained that the allegations were untrue, threatened his future academic prospects and left his reputation "as badly trashed" as the Millbank Tower.
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- London Is Burning: 2010 Protests – slideshow by Life magazine
- "The Battle of Parliament Square" – Documentary on the demonstration on the ninth of December and its aftermath.