Video footage of the Warwick incident apparently shows CS spray being used against protesters from the Warwick for Free Education group. The National Union of Students president Toni Pearce called the police action “truly shocking” and “disproportionate”.
West Midlands police said they had been called to the campus to answer a report of an assault on a member of staff. Three men arrested at the protest have been released on bail.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, a student group that was among the organisers of last month’s free education demonstration in London, said there had also been occupations at the University of Manchester, Lancaster University and the University of Sheffield yesterday. The headquarters of Universities UK, in central London, were also occupied for a period.
Nigel Thrift, the Warwick vice-chancellor, said in a statement issue today that he was “disheartened that yesterday’s protest uncharacteristically saw an unprovoked assault on one of our security team that gave us no alternative but to ask the police to attend the scene to investigate that alleged assault”.
He added: “Let me be clear that the police were called solely to investigate the alleged assault on a member of staff and not in response to the protest on campus. When the police arrived our security team still endeavoured to get the individual alleged to have made the assault to fully identify himself before the police engaged directly with the protesters.”
Professor Thrift continued: “Sadly that individual, and others present, would not co-operate with this request and the police were obliged to intervene directly. I, like many others, have been saddened by the images of what then occurred which saw police and students having to engage in and resolve an unnecessarily challenging situation which led on from the actions of one individual.”
On the Warwick incident, West Midlands police said that “a taser was drawn as a visible and audible warning to prevent a further disorder. The taser was not pointed at anyone and was not fired”.
The statement added: “CS spray was also used by police during the protest when a group advanced on officers.”
Ms Pearce said the footage from Warwick “indicates truly shocking, disproportionate force has been used against protesters”.
“The use of police brutality, tear gas and tasers against students is absolutely disgusting. All students should be safe on their campuses.”
She added: “Peaceful protest and occupation is part of the history of the student movement and one we are very proud of. We will never allow our civil rights to be undermined by the police.”
Meanwhile, a petition set up on behalf of “ex-Warwick students and staff who were shocked to see police violence directed against students on Warwick University property” calls on the university to make an “unreserved apology”.
The petition, which has already gathered hundreds of signatures, adds: “We believe this violence amounts to a violation of students’ welfare, an assault on their right to protest, and a failure on the part of the University to live up to its duty of care.”