HUDDERSFIELD students travelling back from a London protest last night told how they were worried their fight against fees had been undermined by a violent minority.
Some 200 local students joined a 50,000-strong demonstration in the capital to protest against controversial plans to triple tuition fees.
But the peaceful protest turned to chaos as balaclava-clad youths smashed their way into the London headquarters of the Conservative party.
Eight people were taken to hospital with injuries as windows were smashed and fires were lit.
University of Huddersfield Students Union vice-president Ben Hall told the Examiner that fortunately none of the Huddersfield students were caught up in the violence.
He said: “As soon as our group saw them pull on their balaclavas, we moved our students out and away from the trouble. Our members are a bit disappointed that some other people got out of hand and they hope the day hasn’t been wasted.”
The protest turned sour at Millbank Tower, next to the River Thames.
Youths – some wearing scarves and balaclavas to hide their faces – smashed their way into the building.
A number of police officers were injured and eight people were taken to hospital.
The demonstration, organised by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, had started peacefully with the crowd marching from Whitehall past Downing Street and Parliament.
But around an hour after the protest started, violence flared at Millbank Tower – close to the Tate Britain art gallery where the march was due to end with a rally.
Hundreds of workers were evacuated from the building, which also houses other organisations including Government agencies.
Before the violence erupted, Huddersfield students were chanting ‘No ifs, no buts, stop the education cuts.’
Mr Hall said: “We went down there to fight fees and it’s a shame this has happened. But the response from our students has been fantastic – there were over 200 of us and more wanted to come but we just couldn’t afford the coaches.
“But it is a strong cause and it was just a minority of people causing trouble and was definitely not any students from Huddersfield.”
The students were protesting against Government proposals for student funding published earlier this month which would allow universities to charge £6,000 per year in fees from 2012, and up to £9,000 a year in “exceptional circumstances.”
Huddersfield University second year undergraduate Daisy Jackson told how her course would be one of the hardest hit because of the expense.
She said: “I can see many degree courses disappearing and in turn, it could make my degree worthless in the future. That really scares me.”
Huddersfield University students were also joined by several college students from Kirklees College, who were unhappy with the proposed Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) cuts.
Speaking last night, Conservative Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney said: “It’s very sad to see a very small minority have taken the opportunity to cause vandalism and damage and I hope they are arrested.
“It seems there is a disruptive political element that have taken the opportunity to create violence at a legitimate peaceful demonstration by thousands of students.”
A POLICE chief admitted last night that the student protest had not been handled well.
The huge demonstration against tuition fees descended into violence when a group of protesters smashed their way into the headquarters of the Conservative Party.
Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said the force should have anticipated the level of violence “better”, adding: “It’s not acceptable.
“It’s an embarrassment for London and for us.”
A number of police officers were injured after they came under attack from youths, some wearing scarves to hide their faces, amid scenes of chaos.
Windows were smashed and a fire was lit.
About 50 protesters got on to the Conservative office roof, dropping a large metal fire extinguisher on to riot police. Water fire extinguishers were also let off and eggs were thrown. On the ground, sticks and other missiles were thrown at police from a crowd of at least 1,000 spilling out on to the normally busy road.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has assured me that there will be a vigorous post incident investigation. He will also be reviewing police planning and response.”