Today the CPS has dropped all charges against the three students arrested and charged on the 29th January. All 13 students that were arrested that day have had their criminal investigations discontinued, following no evidence being found in support of the allegations of criminal damage and assault.
This follows them having been subjected to between 30 and 40 hours in police cells, strip-searches, extraordinarily harsh bail conditions - and all when the arrests were made under unlawful circumstances.
Simon and Kelly, the remaining two suspended students, have now both been reinstated as students at the University of Birmingham, after having been banned from campus, from their studies, and from seeing their tutors for 8 weeks.
This decision to overturn the suspensions comes just after students and staff from the University delivered a letter, signed by 225 members of academic staff, to university management yesterday condemning the suspensions and its implications for freedom of speech and protest. Yesterday Unison too came out in support, voting to back the suspended students and join the campaign. This decision also comes in advance of the demonstration called by the Guild of Students and Birmingham UCU tomorrow - the first action called by the Guild since the suspensions began. Over the past 8 weeks we have seen condemnations from MPs, from academics and activists around the world, from students’ unions across the country, and from thousands of members of the public.
This is a case of the University recognising that their position is untenable, and it is a salute to students and staff working together in the name of justice. 225 members of staff came out and publicly put themselves on the line for a cause that has no immediate benefit for them, simply because freedom of speech and protest is worth fighting for. We are infinitely grateful for the work put in by UCU and the staff that have been involved in the campaign.
The reinstatement of Kelly and Simon shows how politically motivated the suspensions were in the first place. There was no evidence that any of the 5 suspended students had committed any crimes or wrongdoing - they were just five out of hundreds of people present on the 29th January, guilty only of refusing to give their details to the police and choosing to uphold their legal rights. Their suspensions were motivated, evidently, by a desire to repress dissent and to intimidate students and staff.
For Kelly, her circumstances never really changed in any meaningful way over the weeks following January 29th. She was never charged in the first place and yet was suspended whilst in her police cell. When her suspension was reviewed they used the fact that “there are already outstanding University disciplinary matters relating to a similar unlawful occupation of University premises in November 2013” to justify her continued suspension when Deborah Hermanns, Pat Grady and Emily Farmer were all reinstated. Now she has been reinstated, following 8 weeks of her life being put on hold, despite those investigations continuing.
For Simon, this case illustrates the vital importance of the principle of innocent until proven guilty and fair trial. A disappointing number of people came out and condemned Simon and the other arrested students - despite it being widely known that the CPS is notorious for hauling out trumped up charges against protestors, and violent disorder being a typical choice. The allegations by the University, justifying his suspensions, were plucked out of thin air to bolster a political agenda. He was selected from a crowd by University management, based only on his reputation as a regular protestor and campaigner. His case being dropped is a relief, but something we all knew was coming eventually.
Ultimately what we should take from this is that we are witnessing a brutal level of authoritarianism and repression from the University of Birmingham and universities around the country - University of London, University of Sussex being just two particularly illustrative examples. The reinstatement and proven innocence of all the students at Birmingham, alongside the victories seen at the University of Sussex, will make in considerably more difficult for these types of transgressions of justice happening again - but we know that university managements will continue to try and force an agenda of marketisation, austerity, inequality and repression on their students and staff. We must continue to resist it.
We have been touched by the solidarity from students around the country. This year we truly have created the beginning of a grassroots national network, where in moments of crisis students will travel all around the country to do what they can - and it has been invaluable to achieving the victory today.
Tomorrow we will be demonstrating at the University of Birmingham. We will be celebrating the reinstatement of Simon and Kelly, and reiterating the value of protest and dissent by students and staff together. Meet 1pm, at the Guild of Students.