The long awaited NUS march escalated into violent scenes on Wednesday.
Unions, students and staff from across the country converged upon London to demonstrate against government cuts in university funding and proposed fee cap increases.
But agitated scenes at Millbank became the main focus of reports of the day. At around 2pm rioters lit fires, set off flares, broke windows and security cameras, then scrapped with police before forcing entry to the Tory HQ.
Once inside, they caused considerable damage to the interior before occupying the building while staff, including Conservative chairman Baroness Warsi, hid in their offices.
Protesters reached the roof of the 30 story tower where a fire extinguisher was thrown, narrowly missing police and demonstrators below. One of our reporters provided exclusive footage of the incident to Sky News. The culprit, believed to be a 23 year old Anglia Ruskin student, is now in police custody.
A dozen minor injuries have been reported and 50 arrests have since been made.
Earlier in the day NUS president, Aaron Porter had spoken enthusiastically to one of our reporters “We expect the students are still angry and there will be more to come”.
However he was forced onto the defensive as the scenes grew increasingly heated:
“It is despicable, I hope they are taken to account for their disgraceful antics. We came here to make a very serious point… The disgraceful tactics completely undermine us. I hope that beyond this, people will still realise the seriousness of the issue.”
The police have admitted to being unprepared for the protests. One policeman told a River Online reporter earlier in the day that “students are just out for a giggle.” There were 225 police to the 50,000 protesters and no riot gear was provided.
It was only some time after the occupation of the building was established that extra police and riot control arrived to clear the building and secure the area.
Police have blamed the NUS for advising them that the protests would be peaceful, the NUS in turn have blamed anarchistic trouble makers.
Kingston Student Union’s own organisation, marketing and involvement has also come under scrutiny. Most of the Kingston’s 50 protestors who made it to London became lost and separated just as the march got under way.
One Kingston protestor said “I wasn’t sure who I was meant to follow” as Union president TJ Esubiyi failed to keep the contingent together.
There was also no transportation offered and only a rough plan published on the union’s website. Becky, a KU fresher and first time protester said: “The organisation was crap, there was no unity”.
This compared with other universities who travelled together by coach and marched together under their university banners.
But Education Vice President Chris Dingle was still upbeat about the day: “This is one of the best turnouts to a protest that Kingston has ever achieved which shows the strength of feeling that students have on these issues”
He was also just as defiant towards some of the more extreme behaviour: “As far as I am aware none of our students were involved in the deplorable behaviour at Millbank tower…If any of our students are found to have been involved in illegal behaviour at Millbank Tower or otherwise, KUSU will not hesitate in taking disciplinary action against them.”
Vice-Chancellor Sir Peter Scott, who had previously expressed support for the march and encouraged staff and students to attend was notably absent and is reported to have been on holiday. However, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Martin McQuillan was seen marching with other staff.
Earlier in the day, placards exclaiming “F**k Fees” were seen against the blue skies above Whitehall as students chanted “no ifs, no buts, no education cuts.”
Fireworks and flares were lit in Parliament Square and on Vauxhall Bridge but most reports before the Millbank trouble were of peaceful and well-meaning protests.
The Lib Dems bore the brunt of many of the attacks as TJ was heard rallying his increasingly diminishing followers with “The Lib Dems need to be held responsible”.
Nick Clegg, who faced extensive criticism as he stood in for David Cameron at PMQs, was burnt in effigy. He was the target of several chants of “Nick Clegg! Nick Clegg! shame on you, for turning blue.”
A considerable amount of anti-Conservative rhetoric was also expressed, including Kingston’s own students chanting, “David Cameron, f**k of back to Eton.”
River Online’s critically acclaimed, front line and live coverage of the march is available here.