What happened in Brighton? - N24 student walkout

A breakaway group on Black Lion street, having escaped the Town Hall kettle
A breakaway group on Black Lion street, having escaped the Town Hall kettle

The following aims to provide some basic materials for people who were involved or interested in the events of N24 (during the student movement in Britain winter 2010-11), to think about what happened there and what it means for them – and for next time. It’s based on numerous personal accounts, collated into a punch-by-punch narrative.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on February 13, 2012

Headline events, for those who don’t want to wait until the end for the good stuff: 2500-3000 people at the peak; good mood on the demo, good reception, lots of conversation with passers-by; the official end-point was ignored; 1500 people went to try and occupy the Town Hall, were kettled there, broke out; then 500 of them went to occupy vodafone, looted Poundland, blocked roads, attacked a police station, then got dispersed and kettled on the sea-front.

There were six arrests.

What follows is a draft [written on the evening of N24 and updated in the days that followed]: it happened recently and, even though we’ve tried to get all the facts as straight as possible, there will be errors and omissions. We welcome corrections and additions: the more detail we have the clearer we can see, and think.

Other sources: Tom Wills photostream; the Argus (includes minute-by-minute liveblog) ; indymedia; Nomoregames blog entry.




N24: Attempt at a chronology

2pm: 1500 people at Dyke Road Park, near BHASVIC, where all the different walkouts had agreed to meet up. Restless crowd made up of lots of little groups of friends. Efforts to set up a series of speeches failed because, partly because the PA was too quiet for such a large crowd.

2:15pm: March moves off, ahead of schedule. Police (caught a little off guard) and stewards in front and at the sides keep things under control. More students join as the demo runs past BHASVIC, down Dyke Road. Stewards keep the demo moving at a steady pace – perhaps a little slower than it would go off its own back – apparently with the aim of “making it last longer” and allowing police to stop traffic so that no-one in the demo gets hurt. At Seven Dials, the demo’s held for 5 minutes, until a file of police arrives to put itself in front of the demo. These police – acting apparently at the request of stewards – proceed to set the pace on the way down Dyke Road to Western Road, with a few more lengthy stops while the march bunches up.

[ADDITION] – John Redford adds the following comment:

The stewards didn’t invite the police to the front. They stopped us at 7 dials while they stopped the traffic. They could have, and did, place a line of themselves at the front of the march at any time, they didn’t need the march to stop to do that.

Part of the march early on, in the Seven Dials area.

March turns down Western Road. Numbers seem up by now – closer to the Argus estimate of 2500.

3pm: At Old Stein, police and stewards and stop the demo. Stewards then initiate a sit-down which lasts for a few minutes, before the whole things moves off again, towards what is meant to be the end of the demonstration. A PA has been set up at Old Stein – it’s playing some sort of music as we arrive – but people (definitely more than 2000 now) just kind of meander over to the other side of Old Stein, towards the Brighton University building/gallery which was rumoured as an occupation target.

Then there’s a weird pulse in the crowd – as people try and gain entry to the building, and the whole crowd gets interested – but people go to the wrong entrance first, which gives a couple of police time to get in front of the right door. The mood changes: the whole thing’s off the script now. A file of riot vans pulls out of the police station just up the street and pulls up beside Hector’s House: riot police jump out and start to sort of shimmy along the raised ledge of the building, above the main portion of the crowd, in an attempt eject a few who’d climbed up. People throw a few eggs (“it’s Tory HQ mate!”) but no-one’s too bothered. A couple of kids climb on top of a phone box and gesture to the crowd who respond with cheers.

Police clearing protestors from the side of the University of Brighton building.

3:10: The guys with the PA move it across the Steine to where the crowd’s in the road and try to attract people’s attention for speeches. A few people turn round and listen but most want to keep moving.

Pretty much the whole crowd sets off down Old Stein towards the sea. The police are off balance and the stewards have disappeared. 80 people get into another Brighton Unversity building, Pavilion Parade, before a few cops manage to block the door (more protestors would have gone in otherwise). The main crowd (still around 2000) hesitates, then moves off towards the town hall, back up North Street (“We’ve already been down here, why are we going back?”) then, running, up East Street, into the square where the town hall is.

3:20: The hundred at the head of the march run fast towards the town hall. Five get in before police seal the door – and chant a bit, with a cheerful response from council staff – but they’re thrown out before most of the crowd arrives. This is when the police first deploy dogs. Then people hesitatateed for while before a new rush into Priory house, which draws most of the 2000 into the square in a mad crush. That move is also prevented by the police, but by now the mood’s getting uglier. French bangers thrown, police lines start to be thrown up. People start getting bored, stuck.

Just after the attempt at Priory House. Tom Wills.

3:30: the police try and impose a kettle. People are still allowed to leave, one by one, and they do, forming up outside in small groups and watching the crowd inside. Then there’s another pulse in the crowd, as everyone surges towards a small exit from the square in the south east corner, where people are trying to force the police line. People on the outside run round the corner to where the exit comes out and put pressure on the police line there, too. After a few minutes the police line breaks at both ends and most of the crowd escapes the kettle, setting off down Madeira Drive.

People trying to leave the kettle at the Town Hall - before the mass break-out.

Lots of people dispersed at this point, leaving about 500 people moving together. The crowd ran to the roundabout at the bottom of Old Stein, , where a few people went into the university occupation (lots left again immediately); the rest went to Churchill Square where, as it started to get dark, they occupied Vodafone. (Rumours of a kid making off sharpish with a laptop from there.) Then they moved off down North Street and looted Poundland (the main target seems to have been confectionery).

Police seal off an alleyway from Black Lion St to the Town Hall, after the mass breakout. Tom Wills.

‘More detail’ from ‘M’:

Just a little bit more detail from after the town hall when the crowd returned to the occupation at Pavillion Parade:-

At around 16:20-16:25 a large part of the crowd – maybe half – split off and walked up North st toward Churchill square.
When they got about 100 yards from the occupied building some of the riot police burst into the university and dragged out several of the occupiers.

The remaining crowd outside Pavillion Parade headed up Church st turning left onto Bond St where they were kettled. Some of us from that group saw the kettle forming and managed to exit through an alley making our way up to the Clocktower. There we joined the first group who were blocking the crossroads at around 16:40-45 before heading through Churchill sq and along Western Rd to the Vodafone store.

(Also, the looted Poundland was the one on Western rd, directly opposite the Vodafone store)

Police at Poundland, with dogs, after the fact. Tom Wills.

Meanwhile about 100 people were kettled at the bottom of Bond Street, where a small crowd was forming outside police lines, calling for their release. When the Poundland mob arrived down the North Street the police rapidly dissolved their kettle, letting people out up Bond Street. The Poundland mob then moved onto Old Stein, where it was generally understood that the point from then on was economic disruption, in order to make it clear to ‘them’ that ‘we’ were serious. The road was blocked at Old Stein by 400 people, who let people through slowly and received support from most of the drivers, with horns tooted and bus drivers high-fiving protestors. Then that crowd went across Old Stein, up Edward Street, and attempted to attack the police station there. They were rapidly checked by a strong line of police that came out of the station, and retreated back to Old Steine after a little panic.

The crowd then headed down to the roundabout again, where traffic was stopped for 20 minutes. But the crowd lost its confidence and momentum, and stayed on the roundabout while file after file of police vans made their way there, sirens blaring. The police deployed and, within a few minutes, cut off Madeira Drive and started driving the crowd off the roundabout, East along the seafront, with a series of sharp charges. Those who didn’t move quickly enough found themselves kettled against the sea wall (where it was too steep to jump down.) These unfortunates were held in place while van after van of police arrived, while everyone who’d escaped gathered on the fringes, where they watched helplessly as the police reinforced their lines, creating new perimeters and deploying many dog teams. Several member of the public witnessed a young girl (approx 16-18) being pinned to the ground and arrested. Police officers present refused to comment on reasons for this, informing members of the crowd that it did not concern them.

Lots of passers-by joined the small groups of people on the outside at this point to ask what was going on, and when told were largely sympathetic, especially when it was emphasised that the coming cuts were going to affect everyone. Hopefully people will write up their experiences of conversation on the day, especially with people outside the demo.

Blurry photo of the kettle of the last large group of people.

There was tension on the outside but not too much. As soon as it became clear that the police were letting people go one by one – after photographing them and taking their names – most people without friends inside started to leave. It took a couple of hours for the police to let everyone out – and each one was walked out of the kettle by one or two cops, apparently giving them a ‘good talking to’ about what was and what was not acceptable behaviour.

Overall the mood was buoyant, not disheartened, and people were looking for the next chance to get going. A widespread sense that this was ‘good, but not enough’. “Better than staying in and playing Xbox.”

Taken from the Brighton Student Walkout blog.