Several students at the University of Sussex were arrested on Wednesday 13 October in order to prevent a breach of the peace, following a day of campaigning on the streets of Brighton.
It is estimated that seven students were arrested but sources suggest this figure could be much higher.
The arrested students were part of a 200-strong group protesting against a Brighton based weapons manufacturer.
The combination of a heavy police presence and a mobile protest caused widespread disruption across town.
Fifty-three people were arrested in total, many under pre-emptive legislation that allows the police to arrest members of the public if they suspect a breach of the peace may occur.
One man was arrested for possession of a knife, and a man and woman were arrested for alleged criminal damage, after attempting to glue themselves to a town centre bank.
Road users and bus routes were delayed on Lewes Road as riot police and mounted officers worked to contain protestors, who moved out of the zone that the police had designated for the protest prior to the event.
Lewes Road and London Road were temporarily closed at different times during the day, in order to prevent accidents, as some protestors broke free from police containment and walked and ran in the roads.
The police used the controversial “kettling” tactic in an attempt to contain protestors.
Kettling involves completely surrounding protesting groups and was notoriously employed by riot police during the 2009 G20 protests in London.
One student at the University of Sussex, who was arrested whilst photographing the protest, described the scene:
“The police outnumbered the protesters almost three to one; we were definitely in for a rough ride, unless of course we stuck to their designated protesting area.
The space we were forced in to however, wasn’t the most accommodating! The police closed in on us in military units, which was very intimidating.
“We fled but we were soon cornered again, and they started handcuffing people and chucking us in vans.
“I myself was grabbed eventually, even as an innocent bystander taking photos I was still somehow breaching the peace? I was thoroughly searched in custody then left to stew in a cell for almost 5 hours! I was eventually let go with no charges put against me, but definitely not a highlight in my experiences with the law!”
A Brighton-based group named Smash EDO organized the protest and has actively opposed the arms factory, owned by EDO MBM, in the past.
The factory allegedly manufactures aircraft bomb-release systems. Smash EDO has a history of clashes with Sussex Police that have resulted in a number of arrests and court cases dating back to 2004.
Extensive online media coverage of Wednesday’s protest sparked a fierce polarized debate on social networking site Twitter and an interactive blog on the Argus website that ran throughout the day.
Sussex Police posted regular Twitter updates, advising of road closures and the movements of protestors. Smash EDO also utilized the website and other members of the public joined the online conversation by tweeting with the trending tag “smashedo”.
Ahead of the protests Sussex Police Brighton & Hove Divisional Commander, Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, had urged the protestors to co-ordinate their activities with those of the police, to ensure that the event ran smoothly and with minimal disruption to the local area.
“Sussex Police fully supports the right to protest peacefully. Our aim is to provide a safe and secure environment for protesters and local residents, to minimise disruption to the local community, and to prevent crime and disorder.
“Before today, on many occasions and through various channels, we endeavoured to contact Smash EDO, as we do all groups who protest in the city, to understand their intentions, help predict the number of people attending and to assist them to have a visible and safe event.
“Unlike most other groups, the organisers chose not to make contact, increasing the cost of the policing operation because we had to ensure we had sufficient resources to respond to likely scenarios based on the previous activities of this group.”
The police ended their operation at 6.15pm after a day of heavy policing, at significant cost to Brighton taxpayers.
Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, went on to comment, “The exact costs for the operation are still being collated, but they will run into six figures.
“Financial pressures are tough, but people want and expect us to prevent crime and disorder. Additional officers had to be used to ensure policing continued as usual across the county, although numbers were reduced whenever possible throughout the day to reduce costs.”
The University of Sussex issued this official statement in response to the arrests of students: “As far as we are aware, the University has not been informed about any individual arrests connected with the EDO demonstration.
“However, we would not be routinely informed by the police or by individual students if they had been arrested – since students are adults and have all the rights and responsibilities that go with that.”