THREE students have been arrested and others sprayed with CS gas and threatened with tasers by West Midlands police in an incident at Warwick University earlier this evening described as ‘totally, disproportionately violent’.
Students from the Warwick Free Education group, who had been staging a peaceful sit-in in the University’s Senate House, were confronted by officers who were called to the scene after allegations a university member of staff had been assaulted by one of the protestors.
The three people arrested, all thought to be students, had been meeting to put pressure on the University’s Vice-Chancellor to support free higher education.
Observer reporter, Lauren Clarke, was at the scene on the campus to witness the aftermath and meet with those affected.
Cameron Mason, a first year Computer Science student said the group had been sat peacefully for about 30 to 45 minutes when a large number of police turned up and entered the room after talking to the university’s security team.
He said CS gas was sprayed ‘indiscriminately across the room affecting many people’.
He added: “The group was broken up, with some people pushed down onto the floor and that’s when they pulled out the tasers.
“Two officers held two different tasers in their hands and said they were ready to use them on students if we so much as moved.”
Another student recounted how the officers sparked the tasers threateningly above their heads.
Second year student Alice said the group had made every effort not to give the security team – who are employed by the University – a reason for concern about the peaceful protest.
She added: “It was totally unbelievable – the police proceeded to throw people on the ground, including women like myself.
Commenting on the incident in an earlier statement, a spokesperson from West Midlands said: “Police were called to reports of an assault at the University of Warwick Central Campus in Coventry this afternoon.
“Officers arrived at Senate House at 4.50pm to find a group of around 25 students protesting about fees and a staff member reported that he had been assaulted by one of the group.
“Three people were arrested from the site, one on suspicion of assault and two others on suspicion of obstructing police.
“During the incident a taser was drawn as a visible and audible warning to prevent a further disorder.
“The taser was not pointed at anyone and was not fired.
“CS Spray was also used by police during the protest when a group advanced on officers.
“Police officers and security staff from the university worked together to ensure everyone was safe. The protest continues and officers remain at the scene to ensure there is no further breach of the peace.
Coventry Police Commander, Chief Superintendent Claire Bell, added: “Police officers are highly trained in dealing with all public order situations and using appropriate levels of force.
“We are aware of videos of the protest being circulated on social media sites, which will be examined.
“We expect the highest standards from all officers, and if any officer is found to have fallen below these standards in any way, they will be thoroughly investigated.”
Peter Dunn, from the University’s press office, said the protest was “totally different” from anything the University has seen before.
He added: “Warwick has a long history of facilitating safe and peaceful protests on campus and we have always had a good relationship between students protesting, staff and security staff at the university.
“Today was totally different – it involved a very surprising and very shocking and totally unprovoked act of violence against one of our security staff.
“The police attended to investigate an act of violence – and that was all they attended to do, but were faced by a very challenging situation which they were obliged to respond to.
“We are sure that the vast majority of students would agree that this act of violence against the member of staff is an aberration and that we can all move on from here positively.”
The students our reporter spoke to denied or had no knowledge that the police retaliation had been sparked by any initial violence by a member of the group.