Protesting students to be evicted from Sheffield University lecture theatre

Protesting students are to be evicted from a University of Sheffield lecture theatre - and prevented from conducting similar occupations of other buildings in future.

Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 1:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 1:56 pm
Students taking part in an occupation of the Richard Roberts building

University of Sheffield bosses have been granted legal powers to gain possession of the Richard Roberts building on Western Bank, which has been under ‘occupation’ by a group of students since February 29.

Demonstrators calling themselves ‘The Free University of Sheffield’ and are protesting against tuition fees have been sleeping in the building, with some scheduled lectures being cancelled due to the occupation.

At a county court hearing at Sheffield Combined Court Centre on Tuesday, Judge Graham Robinson granted a possession order to the university in respect of the Richard Roberts building and other sites on the campus that could be occupied by students in future.

Christy McMorrow, president of the Sheffield Students’ Union, appeared in court to represent the interests of the protest group.

He said the protest was being supported by some academic staff at the university and the group had made clear it did not want to disrupt lectures.

“There is not an attempt to disrupt the academic activities or disrupt other students. They are not seeking to control the building or possess it,” he said.

“A number of academics at the university have expressed support for this direct action.”

Katherine Holland QC, representing the university, said protesting students had been taking part in ‘unauthorised use’ of the building and are breaching the university’s code of conduct.

Judge Robinson said this matter was the fourth occasion since 2011 in which the university had been involved in legal action against protesting students occupying buildings.

He said while the students have a ‘free and democratic right’ to express their views about the state of higher education, Sheffield University is the owner of the building and its occupation by students is not the purpose for which the site is intended for.

Judge Robinson said that while he was willing to grant the possession order, he was concerned at the ‘unsatisfactory’ way in which it gave students notice of the legal hearing. Mr McMorrow said after the case he hoped talks would now take place to ensure students aren’t ejected by force and further discussions about the protesters’ aims could continue with university staff.