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University of Glasgow protest: Police chief defends response

Superintendent Nelson Telfer hits back at criticism over police reaction to student protest.

Police: Several officers were deployed following the protest.
© STV

The man in charge of the police response at the University of Glasgow protest has defended his officers after politicians and a student group criticised them for their ‘heavy handed’ response.

Superintendent Nelson Telfer made the comments to STV News following criticism from a former MSP, a Glasgow councillor and the Glasgow Student Representative Council over Tuesday’s protests.

Police were first called at around 10.30am by members of staff at the university. Staff there were dealing with the eviction of students who had been inside the Hetherington club for the past seven weeks. Over the next few hours, as the protesters left the inside of the building, the numbers of protesters outside swelled to around 150.

When asked if the police response - which is thought to have included around 80 officers, support vehicles and a helicopter - was disproportionate, Superintendent Telfer commented: "I would have to refute that in the strongest terms. Our officers’ response was proportionate to the situation and severe provocation that they sometimes faced today.

"I think it is of note there was only one arrest and that was after the incident. No people injured. No officers injured. In the strongest terms, I would say allegations of police brutality are absolute nonsense."

Frances Curran, a former Scottish Socialist MSP, criticised the response. She said: "The deployment of at least 12 police vans, a force helicopter and large numbers of officers to enforce the cuts agenda of university principal Anton Muscatelli is scandalous misuse of police resources.

"This is surely a clear indication of the determination of the university and principal Muscatelli to bulldoze through his cuts agenda at any cost."

Another to criticise was Martha Wardrop, a green councillor on Glasgow City Council. Backed up by party leader, Patrick Harvie MSP, she said: "Students occupying the Free Hetherington are taking part in a vital protest. I was disturbed to see police taking an active role in the attempted eviction, which served to inflame a volatile situation. I telephoned principal Muscatelli's office to convey my views and explain that heavy-handed eviction attempts will only worsen relations between university management and the student body."

The Glasgow Student Representative Council claimed that 80 police officers, 18 police vehicles and a police helicopter were at the scene.

'Unacceptable'

Tommy Gore, president of the student group, said the presence of so many officers outside a university-owned property was "unacceptable".

He added: "Whilst we support the university's goal of turning the previously empty building into learning and teaching space, we cannot, in any way, see the justification for allowing such a disproportionally large amount of police onto our university campus."

The protesters who had been inside the Hetherington club had been protesting against university principal Professor Muscatelli and proposed cuts of £20m at the university.

Postgraduate student Alice Coy was one of them. She said: "We've been occupying the building for seven weeks as part of an anti-cuts protest. We chose this building on purpose so that it was not an inconvenience to students as it closed a year ago.

"The security officers came in this morning to evict us, we've been given no warning. It's very distressing and the university have been incredibly obstructive and refused to negotiate with us."

The University of Glasgow, in a statement, said its security officers and Strathclyde Police were involved in evicting the students inside, as the building was due for refurbishment.

However, the university later retracted this statement, and police stressed they were not involved in any evictions.

A Glasgow University spokesperson said: "The University had previously written to the last remaining students occupying the Hetherington Building asking them to bring their protest to a peaceful conclusion. Since then, many students had left the occupation. But the continuing presence of occupiers in No 13 University Gardens was putting at risk plans the University has to refurbish the accommodation and to develop it for academic use.

"University staff entered 13 University Gardens this morning and asked the remaining occupiers to leave. The Police were then asked to attend when a group of protestors gathered outside. The occupiers left the building peacefully, and there were no serious incidents.

"In the afternoon a group of protestors has gathered in the vicinity of the University Senate Room. University staff are currently in discussion with them."

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