Student demonstrations held in central London yesterday descended into dangerous and unexpected violence as police were left helpless and outnumbered.
50,000 students attended the march and just 225 police officers had initially been dispatched. Early in the day, one police officer told a River Online reporter: “It’s the organisers who take the precautions, not us”.
But after a peaceful start to the protest, a group of students broke into the Conservative party HQ at Millbank, resulting in injuries, arrests and criminal damage.
A handful of officers outside the building were unable to block entrances as the first wave of protesters moved in. The crowd outside Millbank swelled rapidly and police were unable to retain control.
Chief Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said situation was an “embarassment”. He also admitted: “We’ve got to ask ourselves some questions, this level of violence was totally unexpected”.
Earlier in the day one police officer, looking at the chanting students, told River Online that he felt, “students are just out for a giggle”. That turned out to be a grave miscalculation of the mood, as crowds cheered at Millbank as windows were smashed and missiles were thrown.
The Metropolitan Police were criticised in 2009 or their heavy-handed dealings with protestors at the G20 marches, prompting an investigation into their conduct. Questions are now being asked about whether the report resulted in the inadequate policing strategy at this recent march.
Failing to make progress on the ground, the Met Police tweeted for the first time since September appealing directly to the protestors. At 18.00, they urged protestors to come down from the roof “for the safety of themselves and others”.
The conduct of the police is also in question. One student protestor claimed: “We are only getting violent because the police are. I just saw a girl shielding herself, trying to get out the building and a policeman hit her right in the face”.
The University of London Union President, Claire Soloman, spoke on BBC News and was also adamant that student violence was a response to the “anarchy” going on within the ranks of the police.
Investigations into the conduct of the police and the impact of the G20 review are expected to get underway immediately with Chief Commissioner Stephenson insisting on, “a thorough post-incident investigation”.
Read River Online’s minute-by-minute coverage of the protest here.