Save UEA Music representatives, who have occupied the Registry building in protest against yesterday’s ratification of the future closure of the School of Music, will end their occupation at 12.01am tonight.
Following violence earlier in the day, and a break in on top of the initial occupation, it would appear that the protestors’ aim to remain in the building throughout the evening has been scuppered by the Police’s action to bar access to the toilets in the Registry.
Officers outside the Registry, discussing their tactics with onlookers, stated that those involved in the occupation had been denied access to the toilet facilities in the Registry, but were free to use any others on University grounds. Had any protestor left to do so, however, Concrete understands that they would not be allowed back in.
The Police’s move left protestors still inside the building with the choice of remaining inside – without access to the toilet or appropriate means with which to retain their dignity, those outside having been forbidden to pass incontinence pads to them, or leaving in order to use toilet facilities in other buildings and thus accepting the de facto cessation of their occupation.
Left with little choice
Whether this move has had any impact upon the decision of the protestors to leave at 12.01am, at 23.25pm a press statement was released by those occupying the building. It stated:
“We have decided to leave the occupation of the Registry building. We have taken the decision to walk out at 12.01am. The reason for this is that the University has issued us with a letter from their solicitors whereby they attempt to intimidate us into leaving earlier by way of threatening forcible removal and prosecution if we were not to leave before midnight. We see the rejection of this suggestion as symbolic in that we refuse to be intimidated by the Universities attempt to criminalise peaceful protest.
“This time is also significant in that we will have occupied the Universities main administrative building, where the Vice Chancellor’s office is located, on the day that millions of workers will go on strike against a Government that seems determined to make workers and students pay for a crisis not of their making. We support all those going on strike on November 30th and will stand by your side on the picket lines and at 12.30pm outside City Hall.
We believe the occupation to have been a success in that we have ensured that the University knows our campaign is not over and we’re not going to accept their decision. We will continue our fight for a fair, transparent and consultative review, the kind of which would have been produced in the first instance by any competent management.”
Earlier, Concrete had understood that an injunction had been issued to the protestors requiring them to leave the Registry by 12am or face possible ejection, but this has since been revealed not to be the case.
Addressed to “all persons involved in the occupation,” it stated: “We act for the University of East Anglia (“the University”)… On behalf of the University, we hereby give you notice that you are required to leave the Premises by midnight tonight.
“If you are present on the Premises after midnight tonight for the purposes of participating in the occupation you will be continuing to commit a trespass… It is the University’s intention to issue an injunction and possession proceeding without further notice against anyone associated with the occupation who remains on the premises after that time without its consent.”
The protestors had previously stated that they intend to continue their occupation overnight, before making a decision on the next stage in the morning. Food and supplies have been provided to those inside, who have remained in the building for around nine hours, by the Union of UEA Students.
Police took photos of Protestors
It has emerged that the Police took photographs of the protestors inside the building, despite none of them having been charged with an offence. This could appear to be a pre-emptive move to capture the faces of those involved on camera, in anticipation of future offences being caused.
It has been suggested that, given that the Registry building is owned by the University, the photographs could constitute an invasion of privacy, however the Save UEA Music Twitter account has claimed the following statement on behalf of an officer at the occupation: “There is no law which states I can take your photograph, however there is no law which says I can’t.”
Article 8 of the European Charter of Human Rights (ECHR), prohibits the taking of photographs without the subject’s permission, even if the photographs will not be published.
Violence erupts as onlookers storm the Registry
Earlier, news had reached Concrete that members of UEA Security were allegedly assaulted in the rush to enter the building, however these reports are as yet unconfirmed. Eyewitnesses have suggested that this was indeed the case, and photographs indicate that a struggle occurred earlier today, in which additional protestors and bystanders gained entrance to the Registry. In addition to this, an elderly lady was rumoured to have been pushed to the floor during the rush to enter the building.
Police officers were quickly dispatched to the scene, and protestors allegedly caught the incident on video, although this is yet to surface. Currently the Registry is cordoned off by the Police, and so far a number of occupants have been released in order to be able to use the toilet, or have decided to leave.
A lengthy occupation
At around 2pm today, a number of students and campaigners occupied the ground floor, holding letters which read “Save UEA Music.” Students were not allowed to enter the building throughout the day, but staff were initially allowed to leave and enter the building. Following an announcement by the Save UEA Music campaign, a meeting was organised outside the Registry and many onlookers remained to watch the situation unfold.
As well as listing them on the Save UEA Music page, protestors enunciated their demands to the Police earlier on. Attempts were made by Concrete to make contact with those involved in the occupation, but nobody inside the building was available to discuss the situation.
Since the occupation began, it has emerged that Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Tom Ward, visited those involved and informed them that they would not be allowed to use the toilets. Drums were fetched from the Music school, adding to the charged atmosphere outside the building.
A multitude of reactions
Shortly after the occupation began, Save UEA Music posted the following status on its official Facebook page at 3.15pm:
Last night in the wake of the University Council’s decision to close UEA’s School of Music, a public Save UEA Music campaign meeting was held. It was the outcome of a vote of those present that peaceful direct action was our last resort, with the feeling that our requests have not been adequately addressed by University Management. This is the culmination of a long campaign during which the Save UEA Music campaign has exhausted every other reasonable alternative. The decision to close the School of Music represents a decision made by University management to which they have alternatives. However, it is clear that the closure of UEA Music has been influenced by the drastic cuts to funding outlined in the Government’s Higher Education policy. Our demands are as follows:
1. For the University to accept the offer of assistance from the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Association for Music in Higher Education.
2. For the University to conduct a fair, transparent and consultative review of the music school.
3. A meeting with the Vice Chancellor to discuss our demands.
The campaign will continue to engage in peaceful direct action until our demands have been met.
The UUEAS (Union) also released a statement earlier today concerning the occupation. To read it, click here.
The University didn’t mention the occupation directly via its social media (Twitter or Facebook), but the Press Office issued the following statement shortly after 5pm: “While we understand that the University Council’s decision to close the School of Music after the graduation of all its current students has generated strong feelings, there is no excuse for behaviour which has resulted in injuries to three people, left a fourth badly shaken and caused damage to property (a broken door lock). The police have been called.
“Around 8 to 10 students are occupying the reception area of the Registry Building which contains offices and the School of Film and Television Studies. The University has asked those occupying the building to leave as a matter of urgency so as not to disrupt the lives of those who want to go about their work or studies.
“The Council has made its decision and all our efforts now are going to ensure that Music students can continue to enjoy a high quality education throughout the rest of their time here. We are putting plans in place to this end, and to promote music as a cultural activity at the University.”
Photo: Chris King.