Picking up the pieces: Protest investigation begins

A protestor confronts a policeman in Whitehall during the tuition fees demonstration
A protestor confronts a policeman in Whitehall during the tuition fees demonstration

By Ian Dunt

Police leaders, politicians and activists were picking up the pieces this morning after an extraordinary day of violence in London.

The party political ramifications of yesterday's surprisingly close vote on tuition fees took a back seat to the assessment of the protest.

In the aftermath of the violence, the occupation of University College London (UCL) came to a halt, bringing to an end the most celebrated and prolonged of all the campus campaigns.

"We have now ended the occupation peacefully," the group tweeted.

"We take it in good faith that management will not impose any costs upon us."

Questions were being asked about how those guarding the royal family could have allowed Prince Charles and Camilla to be travelling by car in central London during such a well-publicised and highly-charged demonstration.

There was also renewed criticism of the 'kettling' containment tactic, which many accused of stoking anger rather than calming people down.

But both David Cameron and Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said protestors and not police should get the blame for yesterday's events.

Eyewitness: Parliament protest

The protest turned into a "reprehensible, disgraceful mob", Sir Paul said, and police had behaved with "commendable restraint".

"We did everything we could to facilitate peaceful protest and, in reality, whilst I'm sure the vast majority came here to want to protest peacefully, a significant number of people behaved very badly," he said.

A "very full and detailed" criminal investigation will now take place.

But there were concerns about the nature of the police response too, after a second-year undergraduate underwent a three hour operation following a blow to the head by a baton.

Alfie Meadows, a philosophy student at Middlesex University, was hit as he tried to leave the containment area around parliament, his mother told the Press Association.

"He was hit on the head by a police truncheon," she said.

"He said it was the hugest blow he ever felt in his life. The surface wound wasn't very big but three hours after the blow, he suffered bleeding to the brain. He survived the operation and he's in the recovery room."

A Metropolitan police spokesman confirmed that they were aware of the issue and that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has been involved.

There were reports today that a brick had been thrown through the window of Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster's constituency office in Bath.

Speaking outside Downing Street the prime minister added: "It's no good saying it was a violent minority. It wasn't.

"These people who behaved in these appalling ways feel the full force of the law.

"We do need to learn the lessons of this," he continued.

"This wasn't the fault of the police. This was the fault of the people who tried to smash up that car. I want to see them arrested and punished in the correct way."

Labour leader Ed Miliband commented: "There is never any excuse for violence or disorder on our streets, nor for vandalising some of our nation's most important symbols.

"The attack on the Prince of Wales's car, in which he and the Duchess of Cornwall were travelling, is also totally unacceptable. I know that the police will take all steps required to identify those responsible."

Scotland Yard said 12 officers and 43 protesters were injured.

A total of 33 arrests were made during the protests. The majority of these people have been bailed pending further inquiries. Some remain in custody at central London police stations. None have yet been charged.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "Clearly, it is very regrettable that in the heart of London, the heir to the throne can be surrounded by agitators and his wife can be put in a position where she's plainly alarmed."

Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard demanded an independent inquiry into the incident.

"This was an incident that was so very serious - and could have been even more serious - that it should not be left to an internal Metropolitan police inquiry," he said.

"There needs to be an independent inquiry, given the many questions that need to be answered about why the royals took that route.

"There are serious questions to be asked at the most senior levels of the Metropolitan police about why they were allowed to take that route."

Home secretary Theresa May also attacked the protestors and praised the behaviour of the police, but she was criticised by Caroline Lucas, parliament's only Green Mp, for ignoring instances of police brutality.

"Of course operational matters are for the police, but only up to a point," she said.

"When the police use tactics that breach human rights or that break the law, the government must step in.

"Over kettling, Theresa May is aware that the police are abusing their powers, yet will do nothing about it.

"In fact it's worse than that - by refusing even to look at the evidence in the video footage, Theresa May is deliberately turning a blind eye to the potential abuse of power by the police."

National Union of Students (NUS) president Aaron Porter, who has been criticised in some quarters for failing to offer enough support to the student protest movement, said the events of yesterday marked a "new wave of activism".

"We've taken to the streets in our thousands, won the arguments and the battle for public opinion," he said.

"We have lost in the House of Commons today only because MPs have broken their promises. We are incredibly disappointed and angry with the politicians who have let us down so badly. They have voted for a policy they know is unfair, unnecessary and wrong.

"But this is not the end, and our protests and our work have sparked a new wave of activism which will grow stronger by the day.

"I am incredibly proud of the student movement today and we stand ready to fight the next stage of this campaign together."

The passing of the tuition fee vote means university fees will reach up to £9,000 a year, although graduates will not have to pay back the money until they earn £21,000.

The coalition survived its first major test, but it emerged bloodied from the experience. Vince Cable and Nick Clegg's concessions appeared to convince very few Lib Dem MPs to back the government, and right-wing Tory MPs used the vote as a vehicle to express dissatisfaction with the coalition arrangement.

Eyewitness: Commons debate

"This was a very difficult vote, especially for Liberal Democrats, on a highly complex issue," Nick Clegg admitted today.

"We always knew it was going to be very difficult. What I now hope is that in government, and the Liberal Democrats generally, we will now explain to people, especially to students who are wanting to go to university in the future, given the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in, and there is very little money around, given that we are asking millions of other people to make sacrifices, this was the best and fairest possible approach for the future, which I genuinely believe will stand the test of time."

Three ministerial aides resigned and the plan squeaked through with just 21 votes.

This afternoon, bookmakers William Hill slashed the odds for an election taking place next year from 20/1 to 4/1.

"The current volatile political situation could destabilise the coalition, and if that were to happen another general election would almost certainly not be far behind," said spokesman Graham Sharpe.


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