The University held a short march before going to the Sheldonian Theatre where the honorary degrees were being distributed. Protestors gathered at 10am in nearby Catte Street, in front of a very sizeable police presence and media. This was the third year in a row in which the protestors have carried out this particular demonstration, the previous two years passing off very peacefully. It began with speeches denouncing the laboratory and the university's involvement in animal abuse; other topics covered were the moral and scientific reasons for opposing animal research.
It appears that the noise was reaching the celebrants, and the message being carried in lawful protest was displeasing to their ears, with a message of complaint being sent to the police outside. At about 11am the police, who well outnumbered the protesters, became very agitated and imposed a section 14 notice to move the protest on, though it seems they had problems informing people about this over the noise, resorting to putting megaphones into peoples faces.
A number of protesters sat down, and the police moved suddenly with violence. Four protesters were arrested. The have since been released, but with injuries and extensive bruising from the violence of the police attack. One man had about five police lying on top of him, and he could be heard screaming in pain and that the handcuffs meant he could not feel his hands. At one time or another all of those arrested could be heard to be in pain, and they were witnessed being shoved with force against stone walls; one of the arrested was an elderly woman again who was badly bruised and thrown around. All have now been released.
Other protesters were not arrested but just as brutally treated. One lady with a damaged back for which she is registered disabled was repeatedly punched in the back by a female police office despite telling them about her injury. She witnessed her friend being grabbed from behind and thrown across the road by two officers, with the result she was left limping due to an injury to her knee. One protestor complained of having a policeman put his hands around her throat.
Journalists looked on in shock and even tears.
The officers, who had clearly lost control, carted the four prisoners off and surrounded the remaining protestors who continued their demonstration of chanting and placards. One officer was waking up and down shouting at other police to line up in front of the protestors to hide them from the public and to continue harassing them. The police made a decision to march them out of sight altogether, and with much unnecessary pushing and shoving they forced them down Broad Street towards St Giles. At this stage another protestor was arrested for protesting the police treatment of people.
During the march to St Giles the police continued to push and shove the protestors, completely surrounding them. At St Giles itself, the protest was told that it was confined to the railings where they would be out of sight of the public, even if the line of yellow jackets surrounding them would have allowed them to be visible. By this stage it was about 12.30pm, and they were informed they could protest there until 2pm and after that they were not allowed to protest anywhere within the City of Oxford for the rest of the day. Given that there was a blatant attempt to deny the basic human right to protest, those assembled by force there decided it was not worth participating in the travesty of the right to protest that was now taking place, and disbanded. People left disgusted at the treatment from Thames Valley Police, their violence and how they destroyed a peaceful protest. Numerous complaints will be lodged.
The five people arrested, all covered in bruises, have been released now, and bailed away from entering Oxford or attending any animal rights protest anywhere in the country. One individual discovered the bail conditions were unlawful and successfully challenged them. The rest were left stranded in Oxford, having missed their transport home, and were informed that if they were still there in the morning when the next set of buses and trains began running again they would be arrested due to their bail conditions. So the police impose bail conditions that it would be nigh-impossible not to break! Their response when challenged was it was not their problem and they should pay for taxis – impossible for people on disability allowances or pensions.
Thus another farcical day under auspices of Oxford police, continuing their well recorded tradition of assaulting the vulnerable and denying fundamental human rights to civil treatment and protest. However, despite the brutal arrests and police harassment, protestors remain unbowed and have vowed to back for their weekly protests at the laboratory itself today.
If you were there and/or have video footage of the protests, please send witness statements into Speak. For more information on the campaign against Oxford University see www.speakcampaigns.org.uk