Six students from Goldsmiths arrested on November 10, after entering Millbank Tower, received police cautions for aggravated trespass last week.
After investigations lasting three months the Metropolitan Police found no reason to pursue criminal charges.
The students were part of a group that entered Millbank Tower, home to Conservative Party Headquarters, during a protest against higher education cuts and rising tuition fees.
Solicitor for the group of six, Matthew Foot said he was relieved by the outcome.
“I’m glad police are not excessively charging young people who were simply protesting,” said Mr. Foot, of Birnberg Peirce solicitors, who has represented the Goldsmiths group free of charge.
The Goldsmiths group described how most of them got in to the tower through a side door, unopposed. They proceeded to go up to the roof of Millbank Tower, which a handful of students had accessed. When they realized that missiles were being thrown, they decided to leave.
“We went down via the indoor stairwell. The lift had been disabled. Police were coming up the stairs. We called to them that we were coming down peacefully. When we got to the lobby police had formed a cordon and we were held there, around 50 of us,” said Anna, an 18-year-old Sociology & Politics student. “We were told that we were being kept there for our own safety.
After a two-hour detention at Millbank, 51 protesters, including the Goldsmiths six were arrested. They were handcuffed and escorted to police vans. All of those from Goldsmiths were then held in a compound at Charing Cross Police Station. Each suspect had a police minder, and DNA swabs were taken.
Suspects were held outside for over two hours, before being taken into individual cells to await questioning. All their possessions, including their clothes, were confiscated and they were given white cover-alls to wear. They were not given food except for a few biscuits. One of the group described shaking with cold in her cell, awaiting questioning at 04:00. The last of the six was not released until 08.30 the following morning.
“I cried myself to sleep in my cell that night,” said one girl, a 19-year-old Media & Communications student. “I was so scared of what my parents might think, what other people might think of them.”
Another, a 19-year-old Fine Art student, said: “I wasn’t questioned till 02:00. I’d only been in London a month so when they released me I had no idea how to get home, and obviously no phone because they’d confiscated it. It was a really horrible experience.”
All of the Goldsmiths six were bailed, to return to a police station in early February. A condition of their bail was a ban on entering the City of Westminster, which prevented them joining the three subsequent student protests.
Their bail was extended in January until late February, but the group was not informed until only a week before the deadline that such a change had taken place. Now finally investigations have closed and no charges have been brought.
Since the end of investigations last week, members of the group have spoken of their surprise at the officers assigned to their investigations. One girl said she was “frightened” to see that an officer from Homicide and Serious Crime Command was leading the investigation into her actions. She says that she feared that the police would “make an example” of her when charging.
James Haywood, campaigns and communications officer for Goldsmiths Student’s Union, who was among the seven, says that he was surprised to find that the officer leading his investigation was from Counter-Terrorism Command.
“It’s not clear why such specialist officers are being used for protest work,” said the group’s solicitor Matt Foot.
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said that all officers had general training outside their specialism and that resources and officers were often brought in temporarily to work outside their operational departments.
All six of those interviewed said they have no regrets and not been deterred from protesting again. “I’m looking forward to being able to protest again freely,” said Joanie, 19, studying Sociology. “All that’s happened hasn’t discouraged me at all.”
All of the six have vowed to return to the streets “to exercise their right to peaceful protest.
“It’s really important that people aren’t put off, aren’t scared away from demonstrating peacefully,” said Anna. “Those of us who have been arrested need to show that we’ll be going back out there.”
A seventh Goldsmiths student, arrested at Millbank, was not contactable. Since her arrest she has deleted her Facebook account and others from the group have been unable to contact her.