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Sussex Police reject ‘unjustified’ violence claim at student protest

A report by three academics concluded that Sussex Police used a “disproportionate and unjustified” level of violence against students during the two student protests that took place in Brighton last year.

“Many young protesters were pushed by police officers and some were pulled, thrown, hit and punched”, according to the report, which was later criticised for not being balanced or including the police in its research.

School, college and university students took to the streets last November in protest against the Government’s plans to raise university tuition fees, decrease public funding to universities and scrap the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

The two protests took place on 24 and 30 November 2010 in the centre of Brighton.

The march on 24 November drew around 2,500 people, with a police officer for every ten protesters, and the second on 30 November attracted 1,500, with an increased police presence of one officer for every six protesters. A combined total of eleven arrests were made: eight children and one adult.

The report, written by Dr. Louise Purbrick, an academic from the University of Brighton and University of Sussex’s lecturers Dr. Tom Akehurst and Dr. Lucy Robinson, based their conclusions on 20 first-hand accounts, 35 videos, 230 photographs and Twitter.

Sussex Police have condemned the report, questioning its methodology and “academic rigour” as they claimed that their request to be involved with the research was ignored.

Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, Brighton and Hove City Police Commander commented: “We take very seriously our legal and moral duties to carefully balance people’s right to peacefully protest with our duty to protect the public.

“We are extremely disappointed that the same balance has not been applied to the undertaking of this research.”

The report itself alleges that police “mistreated” and used forms of “collective punishment” on children.

‘Kettling’, the controversial containment technique, and violence were also highlighted as causing confrontation and creating “the circumstances […] that can lead to arrest.”

Eight ‘kettles’ were attempted, with six being established, and the academics estimate that of the 1,400 contained, “the majority were under eighteen years of age and a large proportion were under sixteen years old.”

The report claims that police treated younger people differently to the adults that were present: “Police officers showed less consideration for the security and dignity of young persons than of adults, often refusing to communicate with younger demonstrators and using physical force against them disproportionately”.

Those contained by the police were made to supply their personal details as a condition of being allowed out.

This is justified under Section 50 of Police Reform Act 2002 and is taken by the authors to be a criminalisation of “children’s involvement in the political culture of protest”.

The report also criticised the forced filming of minors, which is prohibited without their consent.

The release of this report came a week before the High Court ruled that the use of ‘kettling’, during the 2009 G20 protests in London, was unlawful and a student from Brighton sued the Metropolitan police after being contained for more than nine hours without food or drink during the December student protests in London.

Rosie Bergonzi, 17, claims that by being ‘kettled’ her right not to be deprived arbitrarily of her liberty, right to freedom of expression and right to freedom of assembly were breached.

Liberty, a pro-civil liberties pressure group, attended the latest anti-cuts protest in London on March 26, in order to give an objective account of police tactics used when dealing with large-scale protests, after the bigger student protests in London attracted negative media attention. They were mostly positive, citing the violent minority infiltrators as the cause of most of the trouble.

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