Drop the charges!

3 March 2011

Cambridgeshire Police have formally charged two protesters with obstruction after controversial arrests on the grounds of King’s College.

The arrests of Jacob Wills, a member of King’s, and Miles Watson, a Cambridge sixth form student, sparked outcry within the college and the student community last week. Both had been involved in a peaceful anti-cuts protest earlier in the day, and had re-entered King’s to return drums they had been using on the march.

Despite the protestations of College Porters, King’s students, and senior Fellows including the Vice Provost and Admissions Tutor, police entered the College and arrested them both.

Wills was placed under arrest for obstructing a police officer inside the Grand Arcade shopping centre and resisting arrest. When the police went to arrest Wills, Watson intervened. He was tackled to the ground and pepper sprayed in the face for his pains, and also arrested for obstruction.

Wills and Watson were taken to the cells, and were not released until around 2 am on Friday morning.

Their arrests sparked a chorus of condemnation. Cambridge Defend Education, the activist group to which Wills belongs, said: “Police acted violently against peaceful protesters… King’s College authorities demanded that the arresting officers leave, but the police refused.”

King’s College Students’ Union condemned the “disproportionate level of violence used by the police” and “their decision to enter the college despite repeated protestation from college authorities.”

Meanwhile, King’s College has launched a formal complaint against the police. Their Vice Provost Dr Basim Musallam last week said the police “willfully disregarded” instructions from furious College authorities.

The Cambridge Student understands that University Senior Proctor James Trevithick met police officers on Friday to discuss the concerns of King’s academics and students.

At the moment, the charges against Wills and Watson still stand, but criticism of their arrests continues to grow:

“Police, without permission from the porters, and despite protests from fellows and senior figures at King’s College, entered the college and using pepper spray and physical force, arrested one of our students. This is an unacceptably disproportionate action: we condemn not only the violence used, but the contempt that police showed towards the College, and that they constantly show towards our students.” 

Rahul Mansigani, CUSU President

“Arresting a peaceful protester on private property, without a warrant, is yet another instance of the intimidatory tactics used against protestors in the last few months. The police should be protecting our right to protest and our right to free speech, not kettling and arresting students who demonstrate.”

Ruth Graham, Cambridge University Amnesty International President

“Entry without permission and disproportionate force against students are serious offences. These allegations must be fully investigated and anyone involved should be held to account. NUS has already made our deep concerns about the policing of student protests clear to the Joint Committee on Human Rights and have called for a review of tactics used by the police, and we will be alerting the Committee to these new and serious allegations.”

Aaron Porter, NUS President

“Cambridge police used to have a fairly cuddly reputation when compared to their colleagues in the Met who would smack you over the head with a baton at the drop of a hat. Still it looks from this that the usually agricultural Cambs Constabulary is developing some metropolitan attitudes.”

Professor Nick Gay, University Council Member

James Burton – News Editor

Photo:  Rhys Cater