THE BLOG

Protest as Student 'Chalker' Pleads Not Guilty

05/08/2013 09:55 BST | Updated 05/08/2013 09:55 BST

2013-08-02-IMG_1457.jpg

© Oscar Webb

A student supporting outsourced cleaners at the University of London yesterday pleaded not guilty to one count of criminal damage and two of assaulting a police officer, as protesters gathered outside the court to demonstrate.

In a preliminary hearing at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court, the 24-year-old denied causing damage in excess of £600 by writing "sick pay, holidays, pensions now" in chalk on a University foundation stone. She also denied assaulting one officer inside the University of London Union and another just outside, on Malet Street.

The UoL student, who said her legal aid had not come through in time, represented herself at the hearing but was accompanied by a McKenzie friend (a lay person who could not represent, but only assist her).

She was granted bail, has applied for legal aid and faces trial on 17 October at Tottenham Magistrates' Court.

The maximum penalty for assaulting an officer is six months imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for criminal damage in her case is three months imprisonment.

Her arrest on 16 July, described as "a disgrace" in a ULU statement, was captured in a video with over 17,000 views. The same statement said: "Chalk can be washed off - that is the whole point of chalk."

At the peak of yesterday's demonstrations protesters outside the court, who carried placards with "Drop the chalked-up charges!" written on them, numbered around forty, according to ULU Vice-President Daniel Cooper.

Following the proceedings, he said: "I am disappointed the case wasn't thrown out, but it was expected." He also reiterated ULU's earlier demand that "The University must issue an apology, and intervene with the authorities".

Cooper also revealed that three demonstrations on UoL's campus are planned for next week. They will be part of the 3 Cosas campaign for better sick pay, holidays and pensions for outsourced UoL workers, but will also specifically protest the court case, he explained.

'Draconian' letter

The plans were revealed only a day after a letter was made public in which UoL told ULU its management "is no longer willing to tolerate demonstrations" on certain areas of its campus - most notably Senate House, which houses the vice-chancellor's office and the bulk of the University's administrative staff.

The letter, sent by the university's Chief Operating Officer, Chris Cobb, stated: "If this policy is not followed then the University will consider protesters to be trespassing on University property and will take all the necessary legal measures to prevent and prosecute such trespass."

It also claimed that in previous 3 Cosas protests - one of which saw campaigners dress up as holidaymakers, carrying beach balls and wearing swim shorts - "students, staff and visitors have been frustrated and intimidated".

In a statement, Michael Chessum, President of ULU, called the letter "an outrageous and draconian response".

"Rather than engaging with the campaign properly, and answering its case in the spirit of critical thinking befitting an institution of learning, the University is relying on legal threats and the force of the state."

He added: "Will the institution really sink so low as to seek the prosecution of any more members of the University community? If it does, it will be to its eternal disgrace."

A UoL spokesman said: "The University is not preventing student protest, we are merely trying to ensure we protect the best interests of the wider-student body, the researchers and other users of Senate House."