UK Politics

Student protests: Downing Street condemns lecturers

A demonstrator smashes a window at Tory Party HQ
Image caption A demonstrator aims a kick at a window in Tory Party HQ

Downing Street has condemned university lecturers who praised demonstrators for occupying Conservative offices during violent scenes on Wednesday.

A minority stormed the Tories' London HQ, and 54 protesters were arrested.

Goldsmiths lecturers said: "The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts."

"Praising violence over peaceful protest is frankly irresponsible."

'Deep hostility'

The lecturers, from Goldsmiths, University of London, wrote: "We the undersigned wish to congratulate staff and students on the magnificent anti-cuts demonstration this afternoon."

They went on to distance themselves from comments by the National Union of Students leadership which criticised the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ.

The statement added: "The events demonstrate the deep hostility in the UK towards the cuts proposed in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

"We hope that this marks the beginning of a sustained defence of public services and welfare provision as well as higher education."

Image caption Windows were smashed and fires were lit at the Conservative headquarters in Westminster

But authorities at Goldsmiths strongly distanced themselves from these comments.

"This statement in no way reflects the views of Goldsmiths, University of London. We completely disassociate ourselves from what has been reported.

"Our position echoes that of the University and College Union and of the National Union of Students in that it was deeply saddening to see a peaceful protest tarnished by utterly unacceptable behaviour."

Meanwhile the Metropolitan Police has begun an inquiry into the handling of the student march.

Approximately 54 people were arrested - mostly for criminal damage and aggravated trespass - and have been released on police bail until February.

All of those arrested are students, with 10 of the 33 males and 21 females aged under 18.

The violence overshadowed the largely peaceful protests against the plan to lift the cap on university tuition fees to £9,000.

About 2,000 split from the main march to gather outside 30 Millbank, the Conservative headquarters in Westminster, where windows were smashed, fires lit and missiles thrown at police.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has said the police should have better prepared and called Wednesday's events "an embarrassment".

Police are still examining CCTV footage of the incident and Scotland Yard has announced an inquiry into the handling of the march.

Policing minister Nick Herbert said police had "struck the wrong balance" when preparing for the protests.

About 225 officers had originally been deployed to police the march, the minister said, although a further 225 were called in as the situation developed.

'Lost sympathy'

Hundreds of coachloads of students and lecturers travelled to London from across England, Wales and Scotland for the demonstration in Whitehall.

As well as higher fees, they were protesting against plans to cut higher education funding by 40% and to all but wipe out teaching grants except for science and maths.

Mr Cameron said he would not abandon his plan to reform tuition fees to allow some institutions to charge up to £9,000 a year.

NUS president Aaron Porter said he believed members had "lost a lot of public sympathy" because of what happened.

Under the coalition's plans, students would not have to pay anything "up front" and as graduates, would only have to pay back their tuition fee loans once they were earning £21,000 or more.

But the NUS and other opponents say the prospect of such large debts will deter young people from poorer backgrounds from going to university.

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