Senate House occupation ends with arrests

At least three demonstrators were arrested as security staff and police broke up a student occupation of the University of London’s Senate House.

December 5, 2013

Some 50 police officers attended the university’s Bloomsbury headquarters on the evening on 4 December after a group of students occupied a corridor in the administration block to call attention to the “disgraceful and unaccountable manner” in which the university is run.

The students had said they would not leave until a list of 10 demands were met, including giving outsourced cleaners the same sick pay, holiday pay and pensions as in-house staff.

According to the London Student newspaper, some 30 students were removed from the building by security staff after barricading themselves in.

The University of London Union condemned the “violent eviction” of Senate House, claiming protesters were assaulted by both police and security. One piece of video footage posted online appeared to show a protester being punched in the face by a police officer.

A protest against the eviction took place outside Senate House this afternoon and led to further confrontations with police and more arrests.

In a statement, student union officers claimed that yesterday’s occupation was a “legitimate form of dissent” and that the university’s actions show a “disregard for both the welfare of their students and their own university community”.

However, Chris Cobb, chief operating officer at the University of London, said the occupation had been a “disgraceful and aggressive act, which placed the safety of our staff at risk”.

In a statement released on 5 December, the university said staff had been forced to lock themselves in their offices because the demonstrators appeared “aggressive and intimidating”.

It had issued an ultimatum to student to leave the premises at 6pm and began clearing the build “by force” at 7.20pm.

“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.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said its officers were there only to prevent a breach of the peace and that one protester had been arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.

Two others were arrested “to prevent a breach of the peace” and later released, the London Student was told.

The sit-in followed similar protests over the last fortnight at the universities of Birmingham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Sheffield, Sussex, the University of Ulster’s Coleraine campus and Goldsmiths, University of London.

Sussex has suspended five students over the protest, it was announced on 4 December.

The University of Sussex Students’ Union has launched a petition against the suspensions, saying it “condemns the intimidation of students undertaking protest action by University management”.

Organisers of several of the sit-ins said they wanted to support industrial action by members of four higher education unions - the University and College Union, Unite, Unison and EIS, in Scotland - who held a second one-day strike on 3 December against a “miserly” 1 per cent pay offer, as well as call attention to other grievances, including the sell-off of the student loan book and their support for outsourced workers.

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