Student protests: Met under fire for charging at demonstrators

Video footage on YouTube shows mounted police riding at speed into a crowd of around 1,000 protesters in London

The video shows mounted police advancing towards protesters at 1min 10 secs

Scotland Yard is under pressure after video footage emerged of police officers on horseback charging a crowd of protesters during a demonstration against increases in university tuition fees, 24 hours after they denied that horses charged the crowd.

Footage posted on YouTube showed mounted police riding at speed into a crowd of around 1,000 protesters who had gathered south of Trafalgar Square on Wednesday night.

The footage of the horse charge came as Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, declined to rule out joining future demonstrations against fees increases. Asked on BBC radio if he would join future protests, Miliband said: "I was quite tempted to go out and talk to them [the protesters]. Peaceful demonstrations are part of our society. As Labour leader I am willing to talk to people who are part of them."

The Tories accused him of "dithering" over the issue.

At a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority the day after the protests, the Met's commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, was asked if there had been horse charges at the protests. He replied: "I was at the debrief last night, there was no reference to that whatsoever and I have no reference to it."

The Met was also accused last night of provoking protesters into criminality. Another piece of footage from a Sky News cameraman 12 minutes before the police decision to contain the protesters showed demonstrators milling around by a police van, which the Met said they had abandoned because "officers felt vulnerable". The video has now given rise to accusations that the van was left deliberately to "bait" protesters. It was later vandalised.

At Thursday's MPA meeting, Joanne McCartney, a MPA member, pressed Stephenson to clarify the situation over the horseback charge by officers. He said: "Of course I will, but in doing that I don't want to then create a headline saying I'm acknowledging something's happened."

Later that day, a Met spokesperson said: "Police horses were involved in the operation, but that didn't involve charging the crowd." The spokesperson said horses may have been used "to help control the crowd for everyone's benefit", but added "police officers charging the crowd – we would say: no, they did not charge the crowd."

In a statement after the YouTube footage was posted, the Met said: "The use of police horses to disperse and distance the crowd was an appropriate and proportionate tactic at that time in the given circumstances."

The force's public order tactics have been under intense scrutiny following last year's controversial handling of the G20 protests, which resulted in the death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson. The force was later investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission over allegations it "deliberately misled" the public over Tomlinson's death. The IPCC concluded its inquiry last year, but the findings have yet to be published.

The video of the police charge was taken when students, some hurling missiles at police, congregated to call for the release of fellow protesters trapped inside a police cordon for six hours. The footage was shot by Fred Tscepp, a 22-year-old graduate, from Brunel University.

The charge – believed to be one of two horse charges in the space of an hour missed by TV cameras – sparked panic in the crowd, which included school pupils, at least two mothers who had come to collect children and a pregnant woman.

It is not uncommon for police to use horses in public order scenarios, but charges into crowds are rare.

The charges in London took place without warning around 7pm, after a line of officers holding back the crowd on Whitehall suddenly parted, allowing mounted officers waiting behind to surge through.

McCartney, a Labour representative, said she would seek further clarification from the commissioner. "[Sir Paul's] was a response I expected, however knowing what happened at the G20, a lot of evidence came out later from citizen journalists, and it was quite clear when I mentioned the charging that he wasn't aware that there had been that activity with horses, that he hadn't got all the information there, but we'll have to wait and see I think."

Eleven witnesses came forward to confirm they were charged by horses around 7pm, in an incident that was also witnessed by journalists.

Moments after the horse charge, the video shows a pregnant woman in considerable distress. The radio station LBC identified the woman, named Anastasia, who said she was pushed by the horse into a corner. "I thought: 'That's the end of me and the baby' – that's the idea that went through my head," she said.

Sara Tomlinson, 45, and Margot Turner, 55, two mothers, also confirmed they were charged when they arrived to collect their children, who were being "kettled".

"We were running and trying not to fall over," said Tomlinson.

Jenny Love, 22, who graduated from Bath University in July, said: "When the horses charged I was fairly near the front of the demo, where we were very tightly packed in, and found myself very quickly on the floor where I assumed the foetal position and covered my head while people simply ran over me."

Yesterday student occupations were continuing in at least nine universities – including sit-ins in Leeds, Cambridge, Manchester, Edinburgh, University College London, Brighton, Newcastle and the School of African and Oriental Studies in London. More than 16,000 people are signed up for the next day of action on Tuesday.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council For England (HEFCE), warned yesterday that the row risks hitting institutions financially by damaging their reputation in the lucrative overseas student market. "There are a lot of risks attached to this," Langlands told the council's annual meeting in London.

"One of the things to think about is a loss of reputation. People are watching this very carefully indeed."

The government plans to raise the basic threshold for tuition fees at English universities to £6,000 a year, with institutions allowed to charge up to £9,000 in "exceptional circumstances".

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  • Strummered

    26 November 2010 8:59PM

    I bet they had great fun doing it as well . I've had my de-briefing too Sir Paul Stephenson, and I've concluded that you are a stranger to the truth.

  • Tigone

    26 November 2010 9:00PM


    Thank goodness for digital cameras and cellphones that can take videos. No longer can the police lie to the people.

    Although as the Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson cases show us, they can get away with murder regardless.

  • TomDK

    26 November 2010 9:03PM

    Despite the nutcases trying to appropriate these demonstrations for their own "political" ends, and despite the threat that unconstitutional and apparently unregulated police violence places you all under, please, please keep on. Education is your right, I had free university education in the UK.. In fact, I live in Denmark now where I have just completed an MA - which was free and for which I got student support. So free HE is possible, that it is not available is a political decision - don't believe the lies that there is now alternative.

    Oh, and when this is all over get rid of the NUS leadership. They clearly are not capable of representing the interests of students.

    Good luck.

  • dorlomin

    26 November 2010 9:03PM

    No other news orginisation has picked this up so far. But then again it took a few days after G20 for the bullying anti democratic tactics of the police to break through the "huzzah we hammered the anarchhists" buzz that was the media imidiately post G20.

  • FyodorChomsky

    26 November 2010 9:03PM

    This is disgusting thuggish behaviour from the police yet again. And the usual lies. Hopefully the students will be followed by unions splitting the coalition government and stopping this neoliberal wet dream.

  • LibertineUSA

    26 November 2010 9:05PM

    Make the lying fascists pay. Those were just kids wanting to exercise their right to peacefully protest. Their (the Met's) inflammatory, reckless and dangerous actions incited any violence which might have occured. Just because "the Man" says so doesn't mean it is true...the video shows their lies. I guess in this brave new 21st century world any dissent is not acceptable.

    I hope the next protest is bigger and that other segments of English society (i.e. labor unions, etc.) join the kids.

  • dorlomin

    26 November 2010 9:06PM


    26 November 2010 9:03PM

    Despite the nutcases trying to appropriate these demonstrations for their own "political" ends,

    Having watched a huge amount of youtube footage I think that a lot of what the violence was was pretty much very angry school goers who are not used to being on protests getting involved in some vandalism and frustration at the police. Dont forget the EMA is going and that is a big loss to may school kids, its not just tuition fees here.

    There are hardline black block anarchists but a lot of this is a reaction of young people who are not the usual political types, kids from estates, to being kettled by a police force intent on provoking them to justify their attacks on them.

  • TeaJunkie

    26 November 2010 9:07PM

    Why are the police so stupid that they expected to get away with charging a crowd of legitimate protesters, including children? Thanks goodness we have better technology than in the 80s. At least it's out in the open now. Heads should roll, but probably won't.

  • Manmaas

    26 November 2010 9:07PM

    The police used this same tactic back in the eighties when there was stalemate on Westminster Bridge for a similar student protest. It was all about re-opening the roads, sod the effect it has on a crowd of defenceless people. As here, it led to general panic and I got into a shouting match with an inspector after the charge who I could see didn't disagree it was a foolish move on their part.

  • Bauhaus

    26 November 2010 9:11PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • zeroburn

    26 November 2010 9:14PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • spirit2534

    26 November 2010 9:15PM

    What did the demonstrators expect?

    Last week the police gave the demonstrators the chance to protest peaceably - the result: -- Millbank, the fire extinguisher, the damage to property.

    This week the police used more robust tactics & personnel - hardly surprising.

    The right to protest has to to balanced by the right of the population in general to go about their lifes with violence & harressment.

    The police have a very difficult job to do, parents who allow their 15 - 16 year old children to come to London to protest should consider just how wise it is. Perhaps if the previous demonstration had not ended in violence then they might have a more better case.

    In the end it is about democracy, Tuition Fees affect only English students, the Conservatives had an overwhelming victory in England. It's policy was to wait for the Browne report & then legislate.

  • errrrr

    26 November 2010 9:17PM

    blah blah blah... "Police horses were involved in the operation, but that didn't involve charging the crowd." blah blah blah...

    Is this closer to:


    Your honour, I will prove in this court today beyond a shadow of a doubt that my client was not even in the country when the alleged assault took place. Furthermore, if he was in the country he was at least a hundred miles from the town in question. In addition to that, if he was in the town in question he was nowhere near the pub where the incident occurred. Also, if he was in the pub, he was not involved in the fight, if he was involved in the fight he didn't throw the first punch, and if he did throw the first punch the other guy deserved it.

    or B.

    I didn't do it.
    Noone saw me do it.
    You can't prove anything.

  • holzy

    26 November 2010 9:21PM

    OK, I think this is an update of the story that has over 600 comments (Student protests: Met chief warns of new era of unrest), hence a new thread.

    As for the story itself, thank goodness for the witnesses coming forward.

    They have my respect.

  • DixiesMayor

    26 November 2010 9:22PM

    Good work the student who shot these despicable scenes. It proves not only that we are being lied to but also that the media, especially TV, seem to be missing when these events occur. It seems incredible to me that the TV cameras missed these two charges by mounted police perhaps they were too busy watching the endless repeats of the police van being vandalised.

    The Metropolitan Police should be subject of an inquiry by the appropriate Commons Committee as quite clearly they failed in too many respects whilst other police forces outside London seem to have managed peaceful protests without too many problems.

    There are many roads to a police state and one of them is when MPs and the news media with a few exceptions fail to do their job of telling people what is happening in their name. Thank God for the independent outlets now available through the Internet.

  • euraff

    26 November 2010 9:25PM

    "No other news orginisation has picked this up so far. But then again it took a few days after G20 for the bullying anti democratic tactics of the police to break through the "huzzah we hammered the anarchhists" buzz that was the media imidiately post G20."

    It was shown on tonight`s channel 4 news.

  • dayredeemer

    26 November 2010 9:28PM

    it would be good to hear what measures would be regarded as lawful in a situation where potential lethal force is illegally used by the state against lawful dissenters. i for one would regard my life at risk and would believe it to be lawful to respond accordingly

  • phys

    26 November 2010 9:29PM

    Deja' vu of tory democratic Britain?
    If anyone to be charged by horses should be the greedy bankers you continue untouched. Instead the young people of this nation is about to be charged £9000 pa for a few hours of lectures per week for 3 months semesters . This is an absolute disgrace. Shame on you, Gov.

  • trader

    26 November 2010 9:30PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • TheRealStewart

    26 November 2010 9:31PM

    The police should be our servants in maintaining consensually agreed standards of law and order.

    What on earth is happening? Incidents like the killing of Tomlinson go unpunished and now there are police officers in a cavalry charge against children.

    The police have been allowed to degenerate into a mob of thugs. The police should not be a threat to the British public.

    I was on the front line at student protests in London when the Student Loan system first came in. It was scary. I saw one guy beaten bloody by police officers - while the police line was pushing the crowd away from the beating one officer slapped my glasses off my face.

    I don't know how far back inappropriate policing goes but this thuggish culture needs to be reformed.

  • lorenzo1

    26 November 2010 9:31PM

    Whilst it may not be a "charge" as in those used in Peterloo etc. but the deployment of horses should be reserved for more volatile protests.

    The protest was already contained and did not look like any immediate danger to people or property. The deployment of police horses is designed to dispel and intimidate. A number of horses, as seen here, coming at a "trot" are very intimidating as they do not intend to stop but to scatter which in itself creates risk. So that could be defined as a "charge" also somewhat overkill for the circumstances and dangerous to describe this as "appropriate and proportionate" or "to help control the crowd for everyone's benefit" does rather beggar belief.

    The police denying the allegation of a "charge" make themselves look silly. It means they are employing sophistry and semantics - a denial and then the admission that horses were used at a "trot" makes them look very foolish.

    What they now need to be asked is to justify why horses were used in the first place when the protesters were contained and then why (in effect) deny their use.

    The likely reaction for all future protests is for protesters to go out more defensively equipped, as well as hiding their identities from the inevitable filming of all, peaceful or not.

  • siff

    26 November 2010 9:32PM

    Spirit 2354

    AHA ! So you have evidence that the people involved in the 2 demo's were EXACTLY the same people ?
    Or do one bunch of protesters deserve to get 'punished', without judge, jury or trial., for something other people did ?
    You should join the Met, you would be a natural.

  • RogerBlank

    26 November 2010 9:33PM charge horseback into the students is an extremely cowardly and irresponsible action by the police...its on a par with the idiot who threw the extinguisher at the police...the police are certainly losing the media war and its important that people document all contact with the police in future protests...a successful prosecution would be a favorable outcome if the police step out of line again and exceed their authority....take the war to them and don't forget to recharge your tools.

    i would love to know the best and most humane way to counteract police on horseback?

  • StateResearch

    26 November 2010 9:34PM

    I can't imagine that they think they'll get away with lying when everyone there has cameras on their phones. Which seems to imply that the Met brass simply didn't know there was a horse charge.

    In which case who gave the order for it? Who was in charge of mounted and who was in charge of the operation overall?

    Someone's got a bit carried away, apparently.

  • BrethynDa

    26 November 2010 9:34PM

    Never forget that

    War is peace ("We're fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here.")

    Freedom is slavery ("I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we're not being controlled, we'll just do what we want," )

    Ignorance is strength ("We need to support our North Korean alies.")

  • EugeneKaufmann

    26 November 2010 9:37PM

    The police are basically acting as thugs. Here in Spain liberty is increasing all the time, and the law is seen as being protective of the wider rights of the citizen. In Britain the police are beginning to be seen as nothing more than thugs in the pay of the government. And from their recent record, that is a pretty fair assessment.

  • mcyigra3

    26 November 2010 9:37PM

    The Bankers The Politicians The Judges The Lawyers The Police ALL PART OF THE SAME GROUP - ALWAYS HAVE BEEN. Do you honestly think you will get a fair hearing on any civil disputes?

  • yvesferrer

    26 November 2010 9:41PM

    Tian'anmen Square, it was not!
    Watching the shown footage on YouTube, there was no shooting, no-one was trampled under hoof or boot, hospitals did not register massive intakes of casualties with broken limbs or crushed skulls... Some football running fights with the police are far more violent but go largely unreported.
    BTW, in May 1968, the CRS did teach me a thing or two about freedom of speech and how to go about exercising properly. The violence used then was hardly believable. It was only after the larger trade unions paralysed the country that the government took the students' protest seriously, but many of us still have the scars left by the butts of carbines swung like truncheons, etc...
    Make your point, and please keep it credible.

  • HermanHesse

    26 November 2010 9:42PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • StateResearch

    26 November 2010 9:42PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • lightacandle

    26 November 2010 9:43PM

    Children being trapped purposely for hours prevented from going home, being charged by police on horses and now we hear a pregnant woman too fearing for her life and all we hear from the head of the Higher Education Funding Council for England is that we might be frightening off overseas student and their cash cows. Nothing about the rights of our own children and students.

    Already now we can see the effects of leaving education to market forces - we end up selling our education system off to the highest bidder foresaking the rights and access to education of our own children in the process. What sort of country are we turning into?


  • Burlesque

    26 November 2010 9:43PM

    ah the tories are in power and the met haven't changed a bit. anyone else at the poll tax demo in 1990? that was an incredibly peaceful protest, involving all ages from all walks of life. then the met decided to block part of the route, creating a bottleneck where crowds had no choice but to gather. there was no trouble at this point whatsoever, but i was standing very close to some mounted police. one of them then yelled "right now", they all charged extremely aggressively and the rest is history. that demo and protest is now always referred to as a 'riot' - absolutely created and contrived by the met, presumably under tory orders. luckily now we have the ability to film them to prove their lies when they later say 'there were no mounted police charges' etc. glad i don't live in the uk any more

  • sol2sol

    26 November 2010 9:45PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • smallwordsplease

    26 November 2010 9:46PM

    When will the police realise that they now exist in the age of youtube? Whatever they do is being fimed, and if they do anything wrong, they can't cover it up because we'll all get to see it anyway.

    Lots of coppers are decent, honest, hardworking people, but there's a culture in the force of covering for your own. It has to stop.

  • jm24

    26 November 2010 9:49PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • classm

    26 November 2010 9:52PM

    Charging on horseback; kettling - Now how is Clegg going to say this is oh so liberal? NOT. And yet he was moaning about CCTV cameras - we thank goodness people with cameras can film this real shocking evidence.

    People should be able to protest peacefully - More Police state here from ConDems - Not liberal at all.

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