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Forced heavy handed eviction of University of Birmingham occupiers

A | 18.01.2011 15:53 | Education | Public sector cuts | Repression | Birmingham

Last night students determined to remain in occupation and create an area for free and constructive debate, where removed by excessive force by university security assist by the police.

I’m proud to say the student involved, remained peaceful in spite of personal injuries and very distressing scenes.

This report is compiled by testimonies of a UCU representative present and three students who are pressing charges of assault but, wish to remain unnamed for now.

During the period 18:30-19:00 students were removed from the maths-physics bridge, where on their first day back at university they had immediately re-occupied the university.

Please read the below testimony, it is most accurate we can provide, we have started a petition against the use of force on peaceful protestors and in support of the occupation calling on the university to take a more enlightened approach in the future, to protect its students and its reputation.

As one student describes.

“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 from another 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 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 I think knocked her to the floor (I saw the same security guard try to apologise to her after)”

Another student tells a very similar story of the start of the violence by university security and police.

“I saw the doors to the occupation open to allow further students inside, whereby the 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 the tables were kicked towards us, and I was headbutted by a police officer, causing my lip to bleed and substantial swelling. At this point, when being forced against the wall by the police officer and told to 'stop' (at this point I was bleeding from the face) I left the building in a very shaken state.”

Another describes the view of the action from further back in the room.

“I saw the doors open to let more students in, then the security barged in, i kinda blanked for a bit, and then remember being behind one of the girls (brown hair, pony tail, black trousers and black long cardy) when one of the guards pushed her backwards stretching her back and then punching her, and then claiming he'd done it because she was trying to 'damage his equipment' which she blatantly wasn't. At this point i took a step back from the situation as I get panic attacks and knew I wouldnt be any help if I suffered one.”

A UCU representative, describes his attempts to gain access to the corridor outside the occupation so he could watch a impartial advisor and what he saw and heard from his position.

I decided from that point (in consultation with two other UCU branch officers) that a UCU member should stay around the site of the occupation in order to provide some observation, which seemed particularly necessary in the light of the intransigence on the side of the University, and the ominous sounding 'other measures' that the University was apparently inclined to employ to secure an eviction.

“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 (and 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 the members of the occupation 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 claiming in a very distressed manner that he had been headbutted 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.”

The first student quoted continues with a description of the continuing violence and then loss of property.

I remember getting dragged the floor, I think a guard tried to get me in a lock but i wriggled my way out. I was also screaming at the guys 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 and this was when 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". This same guy got sat down by his boss and told to be calm, he has serious anger problems.

I also witnessed one guard punch a girl to the floor, punch another in the chest (he tried to apologise to her after). 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.

The UCU rep describes the exit of the remaining students some 30 minutes later.

“About 30 minutes later the students exited the room. Reports from the students were that they had been treated very heavy-handedly indeed. One student reported that she had been punched in the face, another reported that she had been pushed across the room, and 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 headbutted a student was questioned by the same student who was making this allegation as to why the policeman had chosen to act in this way. The policeman claimed that he had not in fact headbutted 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 headbut. 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.”

This was not the limit of the violence by security; additional attacks are reported earlier in the day reports on which are being complied now.



Hide the following 4 comments

fight back

19.01.2011 12:55

stop thinking that being non-violent will protect you against violence and stand up for your self.
smack em back, you only have your dignity to gain


Constructive debate and tactics.

20.01.2011 10:37

I hardly think a group of largely female 18-20 year olds attacking a group of large police officers and security, would be tactical.

Debating society offers free debate but, is it constructive? would the university listen to it?

Considering that they won’t even listen to official staff student representatives, why would they care about the musings that came out of a meeting of the university of Birmingham debating society?

Whereas the occupiers points where immediately conveyed to university mangers and two directors came down to talk to them.