Birmingham University Occupation Ends In Violence As Students Are Attacked By Police And University Security.
Yesterday, the Birmingham University branches of Unison and UCU issued a joint statement condemning the violent repression of student protests at the University on Monday 17th January.
Students occupying parts of the University Of Birmingham were assaulted by police officers and University security. The students were determined to re-occupy the ‘the bridge’ between the Maths and Physics blocks on their first day back at university. At around 6.30pm, while letting other students in to the occupied space, they were rushed by university security and police and forcibly removed. The students involved, remained peaceful in spite of personal injuries, the destruction of their property, and very distressing scenes.
One student described what happened on the Birmingham Students Against The Cuts blog. “We were directly in front of the door. The guys inside undid the d-lock and tried to get us in and lock it before security could gain access. At this point, all hell broke loose. I was the first one in and another guy was behind me, we tried to get him in but one of the security guards had him in a headlock, strangling him. We tried to form a human chain to get him in but they got him to the floor. He was completely restrained and I witnessed another security guard assault him just because he could. Another girl got punched to the floor by a security guard and they tried to drag her and me out. Another girl got a completely unprovoked punch to the chest which knocked her to the floor”
“I remember getting dragged to the floor, I think a guard tried to get me in a head-lock but I wriggled my way out. I was screaming to the others that they were strangling the guy in the headlock and killing him. I stood there for a while and when I turned my back to walk away ‘toothless guy’ lunged at me, grabbed my hair and yanked me back, very painfully. In someone else’s words “he really went for you with his face snarling”. I also saw him pacing about like he was gonna rip someone’s head off before his boss sat him down in a chair and told to be calm, he has serious anger problems”.
“I also witnessed one guard punch a girl to the floor and punch another in the chest . We started packing up and security were throwing all our stuff away, they tried to take someone’s laptop but didn’t manage, the one who had punched the girl in the chest threw away a d-lock so lord knows what else he might’ve thrown away when we weren’t looking. They confiscated a £500 projector claiming it was theirs and also took someone’s speakers claiming it was theirs”.
Another student told a very similar story. “I saw the doors to the occupation open to allow further students inside, when 3 security staff took the opportunity to wrench their way in too. I stood and linked arms with 2 other men to create a human blockade in peaceful protest, at which point some tables were kicked towards us. I was head-butted by a police officer, causing substantial swelling and my lip to bleed. The police forced me against the wall, at this point I was bleeding from the face. I left the building in a very shaken state.”
A third student described the scene: “I saw the doors open to let more students in, then the security barged in. I kind of blanked for a bit, and then remember being behind one of the girls. She had brown hair, a pony tail, black trousers and a black long cardigan. One of the guards pushed her backwards and then punched her. He claimed he’d done it because she was trying to ‘damage his equipment’ which she blatantly wasn’t”.
“I waited outside for about an hour. One member of security staff had told me earlier that the occupation would not be permitted by the University to go on beyond 5pm. At around 5pm, someone who appeared to be a University manager arrived with a number of security guards. I and a few other observers waiting outside thought this might be the sign of the forthcoming eviction, so we followed them to the door of the occupation. As we waited outside, we were told that we needed to clear the area. I explained that I was a member of staff and that I was concerned that an observer needed to be present during the eviction. A policeman informed me that I was not allowed to stand on the stairs, or at the back of the corridor, away from the occupation room, as there was an ‘incident happening’. I repeated that I was concerned about how the eviction would proceed, and for the safety of the students inside, but was absolutely denied permission to wait and observe and was informed that I had no reason to be concerned as the police would ensure that no-one was hurt. I was subsequently told to leave, first the stairs, and then the entire Watson Building”.
“I subsequently discovered that one student had already by this point been involved in an altercation with the police, which apparently involved a policeman kneeling on the back of a student lying on the floor. This was witnessed by a member of staff, a UCU member, who repeatedly insisted, to no avail, that the policeman stop”.
“I waited outside the Watson Building with a group of students. A small number of students began to leave the occupation for various functional reasons. One left to speak with the press, another left to empty the bucket that the students had been forced to use as they were still denied access to the toilet, and these leaving students also joined us outside”.
“At about 7pm we could hear screaming and shouting from inside the building. Two students stumbled outside the building in a very distressed state. One claimed in a very distressed manner that he had been head-butted by a policeman as the police and security guards sought to enter the occupied room. The student’s lip was bleeding and very swollen. I reported this to the security guards waiting outside the Watson Building and asked if they were about to do anything to help the student. They refused to assist and informed me that the police were inside the building if I felt something should be done. This student proceeded to inform the police, by phone, that he had been assaulted”.
“About 30 minutes later the students exited the room. One student reported that she had been punched in the face, another reported that she had been pushed across the room. It was reported that another had been grabbed around the neck and dragged out of the room. One of the students who left the occupation was very visibly shaken and needed considerable consoling. All of the students were very upset and visibly shaken by the eviction”.
“I then watched as the policeman who was reported to have head-butted a student was questioned by the same student as to why the policeman had chosen to act in this way. The policeman claimed that he had not in fact head-butted the student, but rather that the student had presented an obstacle to the policeman in the policeman’s attempt to access the occupied room, and that ‘if my head happened to make contact with yours’ that was unfortunate but it wasn’t a head-butt. When the same student asked whether he could report this incident to one of the other policemen he was subsequently denied this demand on the grounds that it wasn’t ‘procedural’ for an accompanying policeman to receive such a report”.
In the light of these events it seems to me that it would have been highly advisable for the University to permit an observer to these proceedings, particularly if it transpires that a dispute occurs with the University, police and students each having different accounts of the eviction process.”
The statement by UCU and Unison, Birmingham University branches announced:
“UCU and Unison, University of Birmingham are shocked and appalled to hear about the allegations of violence against the student occupiers on Monday 17th January- in what was a peaceful demonstration against job cuts that are taking place across the University, including 8 Research Fellows who have been put at risk of redundancy in the School of Education . We deplore both the use of violence to control what was a non-violent protest and the additional threat of disciplinary action against students. The student action is an inspiration to staff and students seeking to oppose the vicious attacks to our higher education system and we condemn the heavy handed nature in which the protest was broken up. We will be marching alongside students at the ‘National Demonstration for Education’ in London on Saturday 29th January”.
See Birmingham University Stop Fees Stop Cuts Blog: