Glasgow & West Scotland

Inquiry condemns Glasgow University sit-in eviction

Police and protesters
Image caption The Hetherington eviction in March saw dozens of police on campus

University bosses, police and protesters have been criticised over their attempts to end a long-running sit-in at Glasgow University.

An inquiry into events at the Hetherington Building found Strathclyde Police had "no legal authority" for their efforts to remove protesters.

The inquiry found that the move on 22 March resulted in "considerable public disorder and disturbance".

University officials and students were also criticised.

The inquiry said the university officials' "opportunistic" attempt to bring the occupation to an end that day was "taken without due consideration of the possible outcomes".

The probe also found that those involved in the occupation of the building went "beyond legitimate protest".

Students protesting against higher education cuts moved into the former postgraduate research club in University Gardens on 1 February, beginning an occupation which ran on for seven months to the end of August.

University rector Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, chaired an inquiry into the events of 22 March in which attempts by the university to bring the protest to an end escalated to the stage where dozens of police officers and a police helicopter were reportedly on the scene.

The inquiry concluded that the university's management of the occupation before that day was "professional, considered and appropriate".

It said the low-key approach was a "sensible one" in the circumstances and "may well have been successful in bringing the occupation to an end".

Image caption Students re-occupied the Hetherington building after being forced out by police

But the inquiry report added: "By contrast, the decision on March 22 to adopt the 'opportunistic approach' to bring the occupation to an end was taken without due consideration of the possible outcomes.

"The inquiry is satisfied that it was not an attempt to 'evict' the occupiers but instead an attempt to secure the premises and prevent further access.

"The inquiry is of the view that the decision taken was one which ought to have been recognised as likely to give rise to significant problems."

It went on: "Events moved very quickly indeed following the attempt to secure the building. In the inquiry's opinion there was an early opportunity for the university to defuse the situation by abandoning the attempt to control access to the building.

"This opportunity was not recognised, arguably because there was no effective command and control of the operation in place."

No authority

The inquiry report described how, between 10:30 and 14:00 that day, police proceeded to remove the protesters one at a time.

It said: "The inquiry received evidence that indicated that the police officers were courteous and that the protesters being removed offered passive resistance but were not aggressive or 'overly awkward'.

"Nevertheless, the police have confirmed that the police officers who attended and removed the protesters should not have done so as they had no legal authority for this action."

However, it added: "It is clear that the police had not been informed in advance of the proposed attempt to end the occupation.

"The inquiry is satisfied that had the police been consulted, they would have advised against and recommended that the university obtain a court order requiring the occupiers to leave the building."

The inquiry also criticised the actions of protesters, and the damage caused to university property.

It stated: "Whilst the voice of dissent must be given a reasonable means of expression, the inquiry believes that the occupation of a university building without permission for a prolonged period coupled with an unrealistic set of demands goes beyond legitimate protest.

"In this case the matter was put beyond doubt by damage done to university property, either by the persons occupying or by persons whose presence was attracted by the occupation.

"In addition, violent behaviour and damage to property undermines the university's ability to enable student protest to take place on campus."

Full review

University principal Professor Anton Muscatelli said: "The university welcomes this report, and is grateful to the panel for their work, and to our rector Charles Kennedy for chairing the inquiry.

"We find the report fair, and its recommendations appropriate."

Superintendent Nelson Telfer, of Strathclyde Police, said: "We have co-operated fully with Glasgow University throughout the course of this inquiry.

Image caption Student protesters marched to the main building and held a demonstration

"We welcome the fact that the report is an acknowledgement of the strength of our relationship with the university and the fact that our officers behaved professionally and courteously during what was a difficult situation.

"We do accept, however, that for a short period at the start of the incident, our officers did assist in the eviction of some of the students. This is something that should not have happened.

"We have carried out a full review of our involvement in the incident and, as a result, have taken steps to ensure that officers fully understand their role in protest situations."

Students from the Free Hetherington campaign group called for apologies from university management and Strathclyde Police.

A spokesman said: "What should have been solely an inquiry into the forceful and illegal eviction of a peaceful protest has decided to comment on the legitimacy of the protest itself.

"Free political protest is a basic tenet of democracy and, regardless of disagreement with the occupation, the panel members have no right to decide if it was 'legitimate' or not."

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