Tuition fees protesters attack police and vandalise buildings
Gangs of anarchists joined student protests against tuition fees that turned into violent attacks on police and systematic vandalism of property, the Cenotaph and even Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree.
Up to 30,000 students laid siege to Parliament square ahead of yesterday’s vote and, in chaotic running battles with a mob, one mounted officer was knocked from his horse, another suffered a serious neck injury and others were attacked with flares, sticks, snooker balls and smoke bombs.
One student urinated on the Winston Churchill statue in the square, which was also daubed with offensive graffiti, including messages saying “racist warmonger” and “Churchill was a —-”.
A plastic booth thrown on to a bonfire of placards exploded into flames, billowing smoke across Westminster. The riots spread to surrounding areas and several buildings were attacked, including the Treasury, the Supreme Court and Topshop, owned by the billionaire Sir Philip Green.
Scotland Yard condemned the “outrageous and increasing levels of violence”.
A spokesman said: “This has nothing to do with peaceful protest. Students are involved in wanton vandalism, including smashing windows in Oxford and Regent Streets.
“Innocent Christmas shoppers are being caught up in the violence and disruption.
“It has gone so far that a car in which the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were travelling through the West End was attacked. Police managed the situation and they were unharmed.” The spokesman said that 20 protesters had been arrested and 38 had been injured.
Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said he had witnessed at first hand the “violence and disobedience of a number of protesters determined to undermine the peaceful actions of the majority of students seeking to legitimately express their views outside Parliament”.
He commended his officers’ response, saying they had shown “bravery, professionalism and determination to control an extremely challenging situation and maintain peace and order on the streets of the capital.”
A Scotland Yard spokesman said that in the face of “extreme violence” officers had to resort to containing the crowds outside Parliament.
They were repeatedly attacked by surges from a hard core of mask-wearing anarchists and charged back on horseback. Several of the horses were repeatedly struck by missiles, and firecrackers were thrown in attempt to startle the animals.
Some protesters claimed that the presence of mounted police exacerbated an already tense situation.
Footage showed one police officer lying motionless on the ground as he was fitted with a neck brace, after being struck. It is understood his injuries are less serious than first feared and his neck was not broken.
Scuffles began as early as 2pm, ahead of the debate, as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through London. One officer was seen being dragged to safety by colleagues after being hit on the head in Kingsway.
Soon after MPs began their heated five-hour debate ahead of the vote, a group of five protesters was ejected from the public gallery overlooking the Commons chamber after they stood up and began shouting slogans.
Parliament Square had been blocked off on all sides by up to 1,000 police.
Hundreds of students pushed through the barriers, and flares were lit, as they streamed through metal gates on to the green in the square. As darkness fell, gangs of teenage vandals, some brandishing hammers, formed among the protesters.
About 20 individuals systematically began smashing every pane of glass in each telephone box despite female and male students ordering them to stop. The Supreme Court building was attacked by protesters brandishing shovels, a Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square was set on fire and, at the height of the violence, BBC news reporters were forced to don crash helmets for protection.
Thousands of students also protested in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Belfast, Brighton and Swansea. In Glasgow marchers targeted businesses they claimed were avoiding paying tax to the Treasury.
Tuition fee riots: protesters arrived at demo armed and ready for violence
After night fell, the temperatures plunged and many of the students at the protest gathered in clumps to sing, dance, chant or simply shiver together and lit small fires to keep warm.
At the same time, gangs of teenage vandals began to become visible among the protesters. They overturned a disused plastic police booth and torched it, took placards off students and fuelled the flames.
Mostly aged between 14 and 18, the boys were keen to keep their faces covered. Some used scarves and hoods, others glared out through black balaclavas.
As they strutted around the square, smoke billowing from burning plastic against the backdrop of Parliament, some picked up placards, stripped them of the paper slogans and slapped the sticks into their palms as they walked.
At around 5.30pm, I was sending quotes to the newsdesk from a corner of Parliament Square away from the front line when one of the gangs targeted the red phoneboxes by the Treasury building.
One by one, they began to smash each pane of glass in each box. One used the handle of an umbrella, several used stones, and all were only enthused by the desperate attempts by students, including young women, to stop them.
An Iranian television correspondent called Hassan Ghani was describing the day’s violence live on air to viewers of PressTV when his Hungarian cameraman, Adam Apostol, panned around and captured the yobs.
Within seconds, a cry went up ordering him to stop and they sprinted towards the crew. Mr Apostol kept filming but retreated backwards as quickly as he could.
He was caught and pulled to the ground by the camera.
The gang formed around him and began to kick his body and equipment as he covered his head.
No police officers were visible here so a few bystanders – including me – placed ourselves in between and shouted at the yobs to desist.
The words had little effect and blows began to land on us. Unthinking, I shouted back at the yob nearest me, a boy of about 16 with acne and a Mediterranean appearance.
He reached into a chest pocket and pulled out a claw hammer.
He drew back his arm and his elbow tipped forwards to deliver a blow before I could react but one of the gang grabbed his arm.
More shouting and sporadic kicking – but nothing worse – followed before the gang left, spitting on the ground and muttering obscenity-laden threats. Off to smash something, or someone, else.