Nearly 1,000 students rallied at the university this afternoon in a protest at arrests last week during demonstrations and a shortlived sit-in a Senate House.
Unlike last week, when during two days of action dozens of students were detained, there was no police presence, as the authorities seemed to have taken to heart the rallying cry “Cops off Campus”.
Vans full of police were on standby near Holborn but they kept away from the campus itself.
One student told Lamp and Owl last week how he was caught in a police “kettle” at a similar march, arrested with more than 30 others, and held in a cell for five hours, before being released in the middle of the night with no charge.
Today’s march wound its way peacefully but noisily around the campus to the beat of a samba band. Marchers then headed off the campus from Russell Square, down Southampton Row and to Aldwych, stopping traffic, but no clashes with police were reported. Some protested outside the Mark Duggan inquest in the Strand and later in Whitehall.
Accusations were flying today after the forcible ending of an occupation yesterday by students of offices in Senate House, headquarters of the University of London.
Students accused the police and university authorities of heavy-handed tactics, while the university accused protesters of irresponsible actions.
There was further trouble this afternoon when some 200 angry students marched around the campus in protest at yesterday’s police action. They were followed by dozens of police and there were at least 15 more arrests.
Meanwhile University of London obtained an injunction banning further occupations on the campus, and also issued a possession order for the University of London building.
Yesterday afternoon some 60 students took over a suite of management offices in protest at the threat to close the University of London Union, poor conditions for contract staff, the sell-off of student loans and low pay for lecturers. They accused the union of “behaving in a disgraceful and unaccountable manner” and listed 10 demands which needed to be met before they left.
Police and security staff evicted the protesters in the early evening.
There were clashes between police, security staff and students within Senate House and outside, where dozens had gathered to support the occupation. Eight people were arrested, with several being held overnight. Photographs and video appeared to show protesters being shoved, dragged and even punched.
The University of London Union called the university’s action against the sit-in “a violent attempt to harass and silence dissent on campus. Their actions are a disgrace, and show their disregard for both the welfare of their students and their own university community.”
The union said the occupation was forcibly ended. It said: “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.”
Rachel Wenstone, a vice-president of the National Union of Students, referring also to similar protests at University of Sussex, said: “We are absolutely appalled by the handling of student protesters we have seen in both Sussex and London in recent days.
“Peaceful protest and occupation is part of the history of the student movement and one we are very proud of. They are … available to students for when there is no other way to get their voices heard.
“It is alarming to see universities react to this action with these disproportionate and draconian measures.”
Chris Cobb, chief operating officer at the University of London, said in a statement today that the occupation had been a “disgraceful and aggressive act, which placed the safety of our staff at risk”.
It said staff had locked themselves in their offices because the demonstrators appeared “aggressive and intimidating”.
“The university will always support peaceful and legitimate protest, but invading our working environment and blocking fire escapes is potentially life threatening and plays no part in democratic dissent,” said Mr Cobb.
“The university will never under any circumstances enter into a dialogue with any group or group of individuals who adopt this approach,” he added.
Senate House was locked today.
At 3pm some 200 students gathered at University of London Union in Malet Street to protest about the police action yesterday and marched around the campus, shadowed by a heavy police presence. Scuffles in the Euston Square area and more arrests were reported. Students tried to block streets to impede police. Some 40 marchers were allegedly “kettled”, or hemmed in by police in riot gear, near Euston Square station, and many of those trapped inside the “kettle” were arrested. They were taken away in vans, it is thought to Lewisham police station.
The protesters dispersed after about two hours.
Those held overnight at Holborn police station were freed this afternoon, most without charge. Some students had stayed outside the station all night in support of those inside.