Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Forced heavy handed eviction of University of Birmingham occupiers

 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. this can be found here, please sign


another version of this that works outside facebook can be found here.

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.

This video taken in the immediate aftermath as the last students are being pushed out shows a female student in a very distressed state describing this happening to her.


video

this can be found on youtube here
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.”

Our petition can be found here.

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.

25 comments:

  1. Solidarity!

    Distressing to see that physical repression of non-violent dissent is fast becoming the norm.

    I'm no legal expert, but surely occupations are a matter of civil, not criminal law. This would mean that police have no authority to participate in an eviction (much less headbutt students!) unless a court order had been granted. You should consult with sympathetic people in your law department, maybe? I think you're likely to have a strong case against the police, at least.

    No to repression and intimidation! Keep up the struggle!

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  2. Shaking with rage as I read this. Cops and security should NOT get away with this.

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  3. Really sorry to hear how you've been treated by the university, security and the police. As someone who has been in occupation, its really angers me to think that this is how universities and the police respond to a peaceful and legitimate demonstration.

    Solidarity.

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  4. Your dedication and bravery are an inspiration. Solidarity!

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  5. As commented above, matters of occupation are civil not criminal law, and the police should only get involved when the University goes to court for an injunction for the students to leave the premises. If an injunction is awarded, the students then loose their right (under the terms of said injunction) to occupy.

    Short of a breach of the peace, the police should have not got involved. In fact it should never have been their job to get involved with the removal of students, simply to witness that removal was done peacefully. Obviously they have gone totally beyond their remit.

    Anyone assaulted (although it may be a bit late in the day for this) should take note of police ID numbers (Written on their shoulders) and also the SIA ID numbers of any security staff who became violent. This would have been on the ID cards they HAVE to visibly wear by law. If SIA licence holders act beyond the terms of their licence (as many may well have done here), it could be grounds for suspension from the SIA.

    In effect Birmingham Uni could find any members of their security team who were involved with the removal of the students suspended from being able to continue working. And birmingham would therefore be left with no security team... that would make occupation easier!

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  6. unacceptable that students should be treated in this way.

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  7. Is there a way to sign the petition without adding the PermissionSpot app to my FaceBook account? I do not wish to share my gender, friends list, networks, etc. with a 3rd party app.

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  8. They had been asked to leave, and thus were trespassing. The police have the right to physically remove people and I am sceptical to the claims made here by the protestors.

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  9. Kick them out!

    First day back at a University that they are lucky to attend and they don't bother studying or going to their lectures. They are campaigning against cuts to education but the money the university does have is being wasted having to 'police' and 'monitor' the acts of these so called 'students'. This money could be spent on lecturers etc, but why bother when you don't bother to use them.

    Kick them out of the University - the other students don't want them here!

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  10. Well the last comment here was so bizarre that it doesn't seem possible to reply to it - but let's be air and break down the argument and see if it holds up:

    premise 1 - students are lucky to attend university (we can agree with that)
    premise 2 - they didn't attend their lectures or study on their first day back (well, yes this is probably (or broadly) true)
    premise 3 – (this is because) they are campaigning against cuts to this education system (yes, true again – doing well here)
    premise 4 - the university is spending money on policing these student protesters (yes, some money)
    premise 5 – this money could be spent on lectures or university facilities (very true I suppose)
    premise 6 (unstated) this money SHOULD be spent on lectures . . .
    conclusion 1 – because it could and should, the fact that it isn’t means that it is a waste of money.
    Premise 7 – the fact that this money was ‘wasted’ is the fault of students
    Conclusion 2 – because of this wastage of money, the students should be punished by being expelled
    Conclusion 3 – This is a terrible argument and you’d have to be a very poor student (or a member of management) to compose it.
    Good luck Birmingham occupation - we all support you.

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  11. Appalling behaviour! I've emailed the VC to ask him to justify why such force was used by both security and police, why security had to be told to calm down by their seniors and why staff/UCU were prevented from being neutral legal witnesses. Ill let you know if I get a response. Solidarity!

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  12. I find this quite ironic, since on the day of your occupation of the Aston Webb your group barged past security and in the process knocked over a member of security staff to the floor, who your group gave no consideration to. Thankfully a student who just wanted to get to a lecture that was in that building went to his aid and felt that your actions were disgusting.

    I don't think that your group represents most of the students at Birmingham. I do support the fact that you are passionate in your protests and that you keep going against the odds. I also don't think that fees such as these should be introduced.

    I think that you have to consider your own actions in these events and how you may not have helped yourselves. I've been following your protests and to me they have not always seemed to be in the spirit of peaceful protests. You seem to feel that you have a right to do as you please, yet in your view nobody has the right to object to this - seems a bit immature to me.

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  13. quite opposite for the last occupation. We feel that they security on the last occupation on 24th of november, was over zealously handling students, some this han­dling can be seen in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zS9m5LKr4SQ

    We don't do as we please we act responsibly using peaceful resistance even when being handled very roughly see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQMdMTMdkJg for example

    we ask you consider we are just individual students only representing ourselves and that it is the university mangers that are doing as they please without hindrance to criticism and ignoring basic rights of others on most occasions.

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  14. Keep up the good work guys stand up for your rights keep it peaceful and they cant brand you as anarchist and agitators, proud of you all.

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  15. Those who think the university security did the right thing need to have their heads examined. I suppose it wouldn't matter to them when 'daddy' will drive down in his Aston Martin and write more blank cheques. For the rest of us, this is real life. If you don't agree, then please leave this site.

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  16. please please please take legal action about this, the university security nor the police should be allowed to get away with behaving like this, it's appaling.

    well done to everyone involved, you're fighting for all of us, even those of us not at uni yet. good on you for keeping up the momentum!

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  17. I was there and it all happened exactly as described. All of the aggression and violence from the police and security was completely unnecessary - NONE of the students were presenting any kind of physical threat. The simple action of trying to slip a few people in through a door was seemingly enough to trigger the security guards into a bizarre rage, at which point they charged into the students and started grabbing, shoving and throttling them. It was a truly shocking thing to behold. I myself was dragged along the corridor by my throat, simply because I was standing near the door when the students tried to pass through it.

    I was there as an external guest, invited along to speak at the occupation. I have visited several student occupations and am absolutely outraged at the disgraceful way Birmingham University behaved in this instance. The most sensible strategy - as carried out by other universities - would be to enter into negotiations to allow the students to make their point while keeping the building operating with minimal disruption to other students and staff. Instead, Birmingham University chose to sanction the use of violence against its own students, presumably in an attempt to silence dissent and avoid discussing the fact that it is making staffing cuts whilst still running a £20 million surplus.

    I would prefer to remain anonymous here, but the student occupiers have my contact details and I am willing to stand as a witness if required.

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  18. To the anonymous poster who started his post with "They had been asked to leave":
    While we realise that under trespass laws we can be removed by the use of reasonable force, I would like to point out that the key word here is "reasonable". Pushing a small lady to the ground then pushing her back down the moment she tries to get back up, followed by a punch to the chest is in no way "reasonable". Neither is trying to drag people out by their necks when the most resistance they are offering consists of holding on to furniture.

    To the anonymous poster who started by saying "Kick them out!": Every student who had lectures that day left the occupation to attend them. The people left inside were the ones lucky enough to have Mondays off. As for your comment "This money could be spent on lecturers etc" this is exactly what we were protesting about: The money the university is NOT spending on lecturers.

    To the anonymous poster starting with the words "I find this quite ironic". It is my understanding that the guard who was "knocked [...] to the floor", this was because he was trying to pull a student out and slipped. The student in question had already been pushed to the floor and put in a full nelson, once again doing nothing more than holding his ground. A video of this can be found on YouTube. Who do you think is at fault here? As for the statement that we haven't had "the spirit of peaceful protests", we have performed no violent actions in our occupations: Despite the appauling way security has treated us, we have not raised a finger against them.

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  19. @ The person starting "kick them out"

    Let's not forget that Birmingham Uni has a 25m pound budget surplus - had they handled the occupation in a less heavy handed way, less resources would surely have been expended, but they chose otherwise.

    In my experience as a student rep, students are very concerned by the degradation of the student experience and the submission of education to the logic of profit. I'm not in Birmingham at the moment, but I suspect many of my fellow students would share my gratitude that a committed team of individuals are acting on our behalf - showing the university that we are not just a passive body with concern for our own comfort and interests, but willing to act for the benefit of society as a whole and the students that will follow us.

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  20. Shocking that managers feel they can act this way, almost more so that police officers do too. Good luck with any charges or complaints you pursue, and solidarity with all of you.

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  21. To Nicolas

    The instance of your group knocking a member of security staff to the ground, is not the incident that is shown on You Tube but a seperate incident that happened at the start of the day when people were just trying to gain entry to the Aston Webb. I doubt your group intended to hurt that member of staff and may not have realised that they had done so during the heat of the moment. This is the problem though, in the heat of the moment and with adronalin pumping bad things can happen.

    If the security staff did some of the things that you said, then they do need to be disciplined in some way. I do feel a little sorry for some of the security staff (not ones that physically punch and say very menacing things). These people are probably concerned about any future job cuts and how that may impact on them. So the big boss says stop the occupation, and they don't want to be seen to fail as they will have concerns on how this will impact on their job security. They are also probably not used to having to deal with these types of situtations, most of the time they are just checking that building are locked up at night, checking alarms that go off, and manning the gates. So, their training in this type of security is probably quite slim and errors will be made (though extreme errors are not excusable).

    Personally, I feel that your group struggle too much when somebody tried to evict you - for me being a peaceful protest means not struggling against anyone that is trying to remove you. I also wouldn't expect anyone I was occupying against to let me in and out of the occupied area. You need to select better locations e.g. ones that have all of the facilities that you may need to use for a few days and have everyone go in at the same time.

    From the ironic person.

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  22. As a member of staff whose wages are paid by you, the students, I have every sympathy for the outrage caused by the tuition fees rise. The universities' support for the tuition fees hike is an insult to the students and their families.

    You must continue your protest and keep your voice heared. But please keep as peaceful as possible, and don't radicalise in ways that may damage the very cause you are fighting for. That is in nobody's interest.

    Good luck!

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  23. Can anyone forward me details of how to contact the protesters? I am a final year social work student who is part of a group who are organising a conference to discuss the austerity measures and the impact this will have (and is having) on those we seek to support.

    At present I am making a short video and desperately would like to include any footage of photos that you have from the amazing protests you have all been a part of. Can you help or anyone help?

    My email is skb848@bham.ac.uk

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