Wikinews interviews evicted London Metropolitan University occupier

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Orion Building, hosting London Metropolitan University's Graduate Centre.
Image: Alan Stanton.

A group of students at London Metropolitan University (LMU) who had been occupying the graduate centre at their university since the afternoon of Wednesday May 4 were evicted just before midnight on Monday by police, university security and private bailiffs.

Wikinews, in contact with the occupiers, obtained a first-hand interview with one of the occupiers less than two hours after the occupation ended. The students staged the occupation in protest against cutbacks to courses at the university which, if enacted, would close 70% of the courses the university offers.

John Hughes, 35, a mature student born in the North London borough of Hackney and living in Brixton, was one of over twenty students who were sleeping overnight in the university building. A second-year student in sociology and international development, one of the courses at risk, Hughes described the police intervention at around 11:40pm:

As I came in the area we were occupying they came straight in the door...There was no warning. [...] We were served the injunction on the spot by two county court sheriffs, four police officers, ten bailiffs and one member of London Met security. We said, 'we need time to read this'. We were given ten minutes to read it and take our stuff.

London Met logo.

The occupiers have not had access to legal advice, although they have had "a bit of advice from some people who are not actually lawyers". The occupiers complain they were given no notice of the injunction and that it is inaccurate, naming at least one person "who hadn't committed trespass at all".

The eviction also pre-empts an agreement, negotiated by London Metropolitan University Students' Union president Claire Locke, for LMU vice-chancellor Malcolm Gillies to meet with the occupation on Tuesday morning. The occupiers feel certain now that Gillies' office made this agreement with the Students' Union and occupiers in bad faith, knowing that an injunction evicting the occupation would be served before then.

The injunction follows a night after the occupation was itself invaded by members of a private security firm hired by the university management. In the early hours of Monday morning, occupiers say security staff kicked open the doors and entered an area where people were sleeping. Security personnel say an alarm was going off in the area; occupiers say there was no such alarm. Private security have also been sexually harassing and verbally intimidating the occupiers, Hughes alleges. "One of the members of the security team said through the doors to a young lady, 'you should put up a picture of yourself, something that's more sexy' and 'I'm quite a big bloke, and if I wanted to come into the occupation I would. Two young ladies are not going to stop me.'" Occupiers have also heard some racist comments from private security; the occupiers themselves are "a very mixed group" of all ages and ethnicities, "some from London, some from outside London, working class and some middle class."

If the occupation had not been evicted, Hughes says they could have held out. "We had water, food and drinks for a while. I'm not sure for how long." Students at Aberystwyth University in Wales occupied two rooms at their university for over a month earlier this year.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.