Students clash with UCL security and police at Willetts talk

• Police with tazers arrived at demonstration against universities minister

• UCL security “kneed me in the head” – protester

• Police vans arrive to clear road for Willetts’ car

A police officers reaches for his tazer as he warns a protester to "step back". Photograph: James Burley

A police officers reaches for his tazer as he warns a protester to “step back”. Photograph: James Burley

University College London security this afternoon clashed with students protesting against universities minister David Willetts giving a lecture on campus.

Police also arrived at the demonstration, where protesters showed their anger at recent cuts to allowances for disabled students and Willett’s past involvement in the tuition fee increase.

As around 40 protesters battled to get inside the building where Willetts was speaking, one student claims he was kneed in the head and stepped on by security.

Adam Barr, who studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, told London Student: “I fell over and there was lots of confusion over my head. I felt really unsafe.

Protesters showed their anger at government cuts to funding for disabled students. Photograph: James Burley

Protesters showed their anger at government cuts to funding for disabled students. Photograph: James Burley

“One [guard] stepped on my ankle. One kind of kneed me in the head. It seemed a bit vindictive to me,” he said.

A witness said Barr “fell on the floor, and was kicked repeatedly and stood on by security”.

London Student heard one security guard telling a protester: “I’ll slam you to the ground.” Later, the same guard said to a student: “I’ll get you after my shift.”

However, another member of security said he “respected” what the protesters were doing and just wanted them to “protest safely”.

A handful of students managed to enter the room where Willett’s was speaking and disrupt the talk, with one telling the crowd in a speech: “We should not be inviting people like this in to our university.”

The rest of the students eventually forced their way into to the Darwin Building, where Willetts was speaking, but they were pushed out after additional security arrived.

Protesters marching on the building where Willett's delivered his talk. Photograph: James Burey

Protesters marching on the building where Willett’s delivered his talk. Photograph: James Burey

After this, four police officers entered the scene, with one reaching for his tazer as he told a student to “step back”.

As Willetts tried to leave UCL in his car just after 7pm, protesters repeatedly lined up to block it. At least three police vans arrived on the scene and officers cleared students out of the way.

Willetts, a Conservative MP, oversaw the unpopular tuition fee increase from £3,000 a year to £9,000 a year approved by Parliament in 2010. He has recently come under fire for withdrawing funding for standard computers, warranties and insurance for disabled students – a move described by the National Union of Students as “deeply unfair”.

UCL security try to force a protester out of the building where Willetts spoke. Photograph: James Burley

UCL security try to force a protester out of the building where Willetts spoke. Photograph: James Burley

The talk Willetts gave today at UCL was on the topic of ‘New Opportunities for Science Capital’.

Later in the day demonstrators marched on Senate House, the University of London’s headquarters, as part of May Day celebrations.

Additonal reporting by Maham Hashmi

Update (07/05/2014):
UCL have released the following statement on the protest: “We feel that the actions taken by security personnel in the face of serious provocation and the threatening behaviour of a significant proportion of the protesters remained professional at all times.

“Our security staff were confronted by a large and threatening group of protesters, whose actions placed our guests, the audience and all staff and students within the Darwin Building at serious risk of being hurt.

“At the start of the meeting we allowed a number of protesters to enter, and they were given an opportunity to express their points to the attendees. We have no problem with this, given that freedom of speech is enshrined in UCL’s values, and we recognise a legitimate right to peaceful protest.

“However, the subsequent actions of a group outside the Darwin threatened to cause harm to our guests as well as damage to the building, and this was unacceptable.

“Security staff are here to provide a safe and secure environment for our staff, students and visitors and to this end we believe that the correct actions were taken.”


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