Cambridge protester condemned for ‘Cenotaph desecration’

As chaos erupted in Parliament Square and police clashed with students on Thursday, Cambridge student, Charlie Gilmour was photographed swinging on the flag of the Cenotaph, the nation's main war memorial. The act has since provoked a furious reaction: The Daily Mail, for one, said "the desecration of the Cenotaph... broke all taboos."

Second year Girton historian Gilmour – who is the son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour – issued a hasty apology for his actions. "I feel nothing but shame. My intention was not to attack or defile the Cenotaph. Running along with a crowd of people who had just been violently repelled by the police, I got caught up in the spirit of the moment. I did not realise that it was the Cenotaph and if I had, I certainly would not have done what I did.

"I feel additionally mortified that my moment of idiocy has distracted so much from the message yesterday's protest was trying to send out. Those who are commemorated by the Cenotaph died to protect the very freedoms that allow the people of Britain the right to protest and I feel deeply ashamed to have, although unintentionally and unknowingly, insulted the memory of them. "Ignorance is the poorest of excuses but I am sincerely sorry."

Gilmour's mother, journalist Polly Samson, tweeted "I am as ashamed of him as he is of himself," although on Thursday night she showed more concern, writing "Son in a mess after day at protests. Battered and bleeding with smashed phone. Not making much sense. Am fearful."

The most knowing comment came from Gilmour himself. "This is probably the worst thing I've done," he wrote on Facebook. "I just wanted to swing from a flag, I didn't realise it was the Cenotaph. I feel so ashamed of myself right now."

Gilmour is no stranger to flamboyant acts of rebellion. On Wednesday 24th November, he incurred the wrath of Police outside Senate House by stealing an Officer's helmet, which he then passed on to a girl standing next to him. She was knocked to the ground by the enraged policeman amid scenes of officers using their batons to beat students back from the Senate House doors. He was also active at last week's Old Schools occupation, using a loudhailer to invite passers-by to join the sit-in.

The photograph of Gilmour swinging from a Union Jack beside the inscription "Our Glorious Dead" looks set to become an iconic image for what was a particularly violent day of protests. Around 20 000 students turned out on the streets of London as MPs passed a vote increasing the tuition fee cap to £9 000 for a year's study. A Christmas tree donated to England by Norway as a gesture of goodwill was burnt, protesters were photographed urinating on an already graffiti-ed statue of Winston Churchill, and grass outside the House of Commons was daubed with the simple word in pink ink: "No."

The Cambridge Student understands the University will not be taking any disciplinary action against Gilmour. A spokesperson said "This incident took place outside term time in London and is a matter for the civil authorities."

Whilst his contrition would appear to be genuine, whether or not Gilmour's apology will make any difference in the court of public opinion remains to be seen.

James Burton


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