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'Total policing' on student demo

Police numbers nearly equalled those of demonstrators on yesterday’s student march in London against soaring tuition fees, education cuts and in support of the  November 30 public sector strikes for pension rights.

Student demo

Around 5,000 protesters were corralled front, sides and back by double rows of police as the peaceful march wound its way from London University’s student union to Moorgate.

Officers on foot and horseback backed up by hundreds of vans and at least one helicopter dictated terms, often separating one section of the march from another. In the end it took three hours to walk less than three miles from Holborn to Moorgate.

Student demo

Student demo

The demonstration, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, was supported by students from Sheffield and Warwick universities, joined with supporters from Kings College London, the Institute of Education, and other London colleges, the University and College Union, UNITE, UNISON, Right to Work, A World to Win, the Socialist Workers Party and many others.

But numbers were undoubtedly kept down by a campaign of intimidation waged by the Metropolitan police. It was made clear that plastic and plastic bullets and potentially lethal water cannon could be used and that kettling was likely. Pre-authorisation of plastic bullets, whilst used in the north of Ireland, was unprecedented for the UK mainland. 

Dozens of letters signed by Met commander Simon Pountain warned anti-cuts campaigners as young as 17 that they would be arrested “at the earliest opportunity” should they get involved “in any type of criminal or anti-social behaviour”. The letters were even sent to youth who had not been convicted of any criminal offence but whose names had clearly been retained on a police database.

Student demo

Student demo

An attempt to set up a tent occupation in Trafalgar Square was quickly dealt with as officers pulled down tents around Nelson’s Column. Arrests were made, including an art dealer supporting Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, apparently because he was carrying a placard with a four letter word. But despite the heavy police presence, the march was generally good-natured, enlivened by a drums, rattles and chanting.

10 November 2011

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