THE BLOG

Protest Turns Ugly: Warwick Students Tear-Gassed and Threatened With Tasers

05/12/2014 12:29 GMT | Updated 03/02/2015 10:59 GMT

By Natasha Clark and Katherine Price

Students have been arrested, sprayed with tear gas and threatened with tasers at the University of Warwick, after a peaceful education protest turned violent yesterday on Wednesday.

Three students were arrested, one on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, two on counts of obstructing police, after scuffles with security services and police after a sit-in at Senate House.

Videos show security staff and police using tasers, pulling students by their clothes, and spraying CS-gas directly into the eyes of one student, and into a group of about ten students.

Students are heard screaming as security pushed back the group of around 20 students.

The use of the weapons was later confirmed by a police officer present to one of the students, but the action was allegedly taken in response to an assault on an officer.

The 25-strong protest began as a peaceful discussion and sit-in on the topic of free education at around 3.30pm, as part of national protests for free education with demonstrations around the country, backed by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

University security officers were already present, and at around 5.00pm police officers arrived and tried to break up the protest. Protesters were not aware that police had been called and it was not until after the protest that it was revealed that a staff member had reported being assaulted by one of the group.

"I was grabbed by the throat and then sprayed with CS-gas," Lewis Foster, a third-year student said. "I can't believe this happens at UK campuses."

Postgraduate sociology student Craig McVey, who attended the protest, said: "When they turned up we actually thought it was something unrelated because, as far as we were concerned, there was no reason for them to be there.

"Some people were dragged out by their legs, their head dragging on the floor.

"This demonstration wasn't noisy... not even disruptive, people were still using the space for what it was there to be used for"

"From our perspective it just seems completely unprovoked. It seems completely disproportionate. We were just sat in a circle having a meeting"

"It was horrific being there and watching it," said Miguel Costa Matos, a part-time officer at Warwick Students' Union, and politics student. "I simply didn't think this could happen in a democratic society."

Callum Cant, one of the organisers of the protest, said the police violence was unprecedented. "We are all disgusted at the heavy handed use of the police and ask the University to publicly condemn such an attack on its students."

Final year student Daniel Cope said students across campus were enraged by the action seen today.

"This bodes really poorly for Warwick's reputation," he said. "It shows the growing intolerance towards students peaceful protests, which is deeply concerning for the student body."

However, Peter Dunn, press spokesperson from the University of Warwick, told the Coventry Telegraph that the University called the police in response to an "shocking and surprising... unprovoked act of violence such a nature that we felt we simply had to call the police".

"We have held a number of protests here in the past, and security was on hand to help facilitate a peaceful protest. We have never had an issue of this nature in the past."

A statement from Warwick Students' Union condemned the action.

"From the footage we have seen, we absolutely believe that disproportionate force was used against the protesters. We stand in solidarity with the Warwick students who were unnecessarily harmed in this action."

Former Warwick SU Education Officer Erin Davies described the actions as "disgraceful".

"It's clear from the videos that many of the students were extremely distressed. It's disgraceful when issues escalate to the point of violence from both sides."

A member of SU staff described the scenes as "unbelievable".

McVey added: "It sets a very bad precedent. If this can happen at Warwick, which is a pretty sleepy campus in terms of student activism. What's next? Rubber bullets?"

There will be a demonstration against police brutality at the University of Warwick this afternoon.