Sussex University Occupation: March 3rd: Events and Ramifications for Student Protest

Sussex University Occupation: March 3rd: Events and Ramifications for Student Protest

On March 3rd, at 12.30pm, between 50 and 80 (approx) people occupied Sussex House, on the university campus. Students occupied corridors inside the management offices, in protest against the Vice Chancellor’s plans to make 115 staff redundant, as well as a host of other cuts to teaching and other services used by staff and students.

The students’ action was part of a national day of action against education cuts, called in response to the Government’s announcement (on February 1st) of £950m cuts to university funding over the next three years. The occupation was also in solidarity with students at Westminster University, who similarly occupied their vice-chancellor’s office on Monday 1st March, to protest against cuts.

The same day, more than three quarters of Sussex UCU members voted in favour of a strike. The Sussex vote had a record-breaking turnout of over 80%, the highest in UCU ballot history. 76% of these voted in favour of strike action.

As soon as the occupation began, it seems police were called to the scene. It then seems to be the case that protesters turned up in solidarity with the occupiers, and in order to stop them from being arrested by police. In response to this police flooded the scene, beating protesters, and arresting two people:

“Two minutes later, police arrived on campus. A demonstration was called outside Sussex House to show support to the students occupying and the response was 16 police vans, riot police with pepper spray, tasers and dogs. Police beat back students from demonstrating and occupying, threatening to release dogs and use tasers on our student population on campus. Several students were detained and wounded as well as two arrests of Sussex university students.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Michael Farthing, accused students involved in the occupation of trespass, of being violent and abusive, of stealing “papers and personal property”, and of assaulting “at least one” member of staff. It seems the University also accused the occupiers of holding hostage “at least” six members of staff, and the VC blamed students for disrupting the payroll (as staff were unable to work that day) resulting in 200 staff members having their pay delayed for a week.

Interestingly, this differs from the police report, which states that only “five members of staff were in the building at the time”. Two arrests are mentioned for assault: one for pushing over a security guard and one for assaulting a police officer. No mention of theft is included. Some of the Police’s own actions were caught on film. In one clip a member of the police force grabs a man who is carrying a case in one hand, and pulls him down a bank, where he is forcefully pinned to the floor by several police officers, though it is worth noting that he was not actually arrested and had commited no crime (see comments below for clarification).

Students issued their own statement regarding the events (http://defendsussex.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/what-actually-happened/):

Dear friends,

Yesterday a vibrant Stop the Cuts carnival assembled in Library Square at midday to show solidarity with the overwhelming vote for strike action by our lecturers. The turnout – 80.9% – is the highest figure the union has ever had in a ballot. Over three-quarters of staff (76%) who voted supported strike action and over four-fifths (82%) agreed to action short of a strike.

There were protests in several other universities as part of a national day of student action.

At Sussex around 80 students stormed the management building, Sussex House, through a fire exit. The Vice Chancellor’s Executive Group (VCEG) corridor was occupied.

Staff within the building were given leaflets explaining why the occupation was happening and were allowed to leave peacefully. As staff were leaving the building the head of Sussex security, Roger Morgan, stopped senior managers and some other staff, including Academic Registrar John Duffy, from exiting and herded them into an office in the VCEG corridor which was then locked. Roger Morgan and John Duffy presented this to the police as a kind of hostage situation, requesting a police escort out of the building despite the occupiers guaranteeing the safe exit of all staff inside.

16 police cars and vans were called to the university. Police were unable to enter the building as doors had been chained and barricaded by the occupiers. There was a stand off between police and students at the one fire exit kept open throughout the whole duration of the occupation.

At 4pm a demonstration in support of the occupation was called. Around 200 students attended. As some of them tried to join the occupation they were attacked by fully armoured riot police using fists and knees, batons and police dogs and waving pepper spray and electric tasers in students faces. Students left the occupation on their own terms to join the demonstration outside.

Two students who were attacked by police were subsequently arrested and released from police custody at 2am, one was released with a caution, the other charged with common assault. The allegation of assault is fabricated. One security guard fell over and then claimed to the police he was assaulted. Students saw another security guard informing the police that his colleague had not been assaulted but had tripped over. Several other students were briefly detained and searched.

Senior managers including Robert “Bob” Allison (pro-Vice Chancellor) and Michael Farthing, (Vice Chancellor), were eye witness to students being brutalised by riot police. Indeed, it was they who asked the police to take such action against the student body and our peaceful protest.


On 5th March, the Vice Chancellor suspended, without due process, some of the students suspected to have been involved in the occupation: “As of 3:30pm on Friday 5th March, the Stop the cuts campaign has been made aware of at least 5 notices of suspension for students involved in the occupation of Wednesday 3rd March. These suspensions come directly from the Vice Chancellor Michael Farthing without recourse to any disciplinary process, effective immediately.” The Vice-Chancellor overruled the normal disciplinary procedure and suspended the students before presenting them with any evidence of their alleged offences or giving them any opportunity to make their case. The terms of the suspensions specify that students will not be allowed to attend lectures or be on University property for a minimum of 30 working days, and have had their access to computer networks and facilities withdrawn. In addition, students have also been threatened with expulsion.

Moreover, University management were granted a High Court injunction prohibiting “protest action (without the consent of the University of Sussex).” This injunction can be used to prohibit further protest action, since this could be considered a criminal offence.

The Defend Sussex blog states: “The witness statement on the injunction provided by Registrar and Secretary John Duffy contained false information claiming that students were holding staff “hostage,” which was refuted to police at the scene. Staff within the building were given leaflets explaining why the occupation was happening and were allowed to leave safely.”

Since March 3rd, a host of smaller protests and other actions in solidarity with those arrested and suspended have been carried out.

————————-

What this case tells us is this: university managers will betray their own students, even to the extent of calling for and colluding with police brutality. Not only this, but they are content to make unsubstantiated claims that students have carried out criminal offences, and to spread slander, and determinedly pursue all strategies available in order to break solidarity between lecturers, staff and students.. More worrying, these unsubstantiated claims are used to suspend students, threatening them with permanent expulsion, and the High Court is prepared to collude with this mistreatment and criminalisation by creating bans on protest that criminalise all peaceful protests. Make no mistake, if this is not challenge immediately, it can and will be used against protestors at other universities – and perhaps protestors generally.

What we have seen is a complete and utter abuse of power by all authorities involved here: university staff and managers, police and the courts. I can only offer my continuing solidarity with the students of the University of Sussex, and students and staff and other workers protesting throughout the UK and, indeed, the world.

Wit

http://defendsussex.wordpress.com/
http://brightonsolfed.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/sussex-uni-update-protests-suspensions-injunction/

Edit: I hear three were arrested: http://theratcatchersofthesewers.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/strike-votes-student-occupations-a-hint-of-68-on-the-horizon-perhaps/ – but not confirmed elsewhere.

Here is very good blog, and seeming originator of much of video material available so far:
http://tabitharohrer.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/sussex-university-occupation-excessive-force/

Edit: I’ve seen some footage of the occupation, that I won’t link (I don’t want to make anyone more likely to be identified) but surely there were more than 80 people in the occupation? It looks to me to have been over 100.

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~ by Wit on March 6, 2010.

4 Responses to “Sussex University Occupation: March 3rd: Events and Ramifications for Student Protest”

  1. Hi, I don’t know who you are but its completely wrong to suggest that the person in the now well-known you tube video being pushed down the bank was arrested for theft. This is completely untrue, as I am that person and I was not arrested, still less charged. Merely roughed up a little after being caught up in a melee. Please issue this correction. Kind regards.

    • Dear Richard,

      I think there is some misunderstanding on both our parts. To be clear, I was not intending to in any way suggest that you were guilty of theft. I have altered the paragraph in the article, but include it below. I apologise for a certain ambiguity in my phrasing, but if you read over it again you will see that what I was attempting to suggest is that 1) Michael Farthing made unsubstantiated claims of theft which are notably absent from the police report (i.e. remain unsubstantiated); 2) that, having viewed the video (and thinking that it showed an arrest), we not only see no assault, but the person in the film is carrying a bag in one hand, and could hardly have been a match for the geared up police officer who drags him down the hill to be set upon by about five policemen. Thank you for correcting me on this second point, by pointing out that you were not actually the person arrested for assault, nor were you arrested. Thus, the point I was trying to make implicitly – that the police were unnecessarily brutal – is further confirmed.

      If you read over the article once more, you will see that my sympathies lie firmly with the students, and not at all with the police or the university mangers and their cronies. Apologies once again for any misunderstanding.

      Wit

      —-
      Original paragraphs (now altered above):

      The Vice-Chancellor, Michael Farthing, accused students involved in the occupation trespass, of being violent and abusive, of stealing “papers and personal property”, and of assaulting “at least one” member of staff. It seems the University also accused the occupiers of holding hostage “at least” six members of staff. The VC also blamed students for disrupting the payroll (as staff were unable to work that day) resulting in 200 staff members having their pay delayed for a week.

      Interestingly, this differs from the police report, which states that only “five members of staff were in the building at the time”. Two arrests are mentioned for assault: one for pushing over a security guard and one for assaulting a police officer. No mention of theft is included. One arrest, presumably the latter, was recorded on film . A member of the police force grabs a man who is carrying a case in one hand, and pulls him down a bank, where he is forcefully arrested by several police officers.

      [NB.: ‘latter’ here refers (or is at least intended to refer) to the arrest for assault of a police officer. All now (hopefully) set straight in main article. Thanks – Wit]

  2. I enjoy browsing your site, always find out something new facts.
    Emily R.

  3. How you think when the economic crisis will end? I wish to make statistics of independent opinions!

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