University fury over student party chaos

STUDENTS at Sheffield University face fines or even expulsion after the quiet of a city suburb was shattered in the early hours of Saturday by hundreds of drunken revellers.

Things got out of hand when details of a student party appeared on social networking site Facebook and the event was gatecrashed by dozens of uninvited guests.

Police were called and the crowd was eventually dispersed at around 4am. Now students involved in the incident are being formally disciplined after what university managers admit was the 'worst case of public disturbance' since the old Pyjama Jump.

Friday night's house party was organised by students at Oakholme Lodge, a 30-room university residence. One of the group mentioned it on his personal Facebook page and word began to spread - not just to his friends, but also to their contacts and beyond.

People living in Oakholme Road, between Broomhill and Endcliffe, were woken at around 1am as more and more party-goers turned up and tried to get into the lodge.

At 1.30am university security staff were called following complaints of noise, rowdy behaviour, bottles being thrown and people urinating in the street. By the time police arrived three hours later, as many as 300 people were gathered in the area surrounding the hall.

"When the police first arrived they were massively outnumbered by all these people and were getting a lot of verbal abuse," said a university spokeswoman.

Reinforcements were called, ten people were arrested and the crowd dispersed. Nine received on-the-spot fines and one was cautioned for drunk and disorderly behaviour.

The incident has triggered consternation at the university, where great store is set on good community relations.

On Monday Pro-Vice Chancellor Prof Paul White took the unprecendented step of writing to every student reminding them of their obligations relating to good conduct.

The letter says: "The University of Sheffield takes very seriously any misconduct by students, either on or off campus, and is dismayed when the actions of a minority bring the good name of the university and the majority of its students into disrepute."

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It reminds them that, under the Students' Charter, they are required to behave responsibly and have respect for their neighbours. Alcohol is regarded as an aggravating factor, not an excuse, and disciplinary action may be taken against anyone who damages the university's good name.

It concludes with a plea: "Events such as those which occurred over the weekend cause enormous damage. Please respect other people in your neighbourhood and help us to promote good community relations."

Students from Oakholme Lodge have already written letters of apology to their neighbours - and delivered them in person. University managers are also writing to local residents, underlining their dismay and outlining the action being taken as a result.

All those directly involved are being disciplined. Under this procedure, overseen by a local magistrate, they face penalties ranging from a fine or compensation order, to losing their university accommodation or even expulsion.

All are likely to be required to give a signed undertaking that there will be no repeat of the incident.

"They're all very contrite, but we're taking a hardline approach to underline to all students that we won't ignore this kind of thing and that we take misconduct in the community seriously," said the spokeswoman.

"It was a nightmare from the residents' point of view, and the university was absolutely furious because we're trying really hard to foster good relations.

"Of course we've had rowdy parties before, but this is the worst case we've had to my knowledge, because of the massive numbers involved. Social networking is a fact of life with young people now and we'll be looking at how we tackle that."

Students' union president Mark Willoughby backed the hardline stance: "On this we're very much with the university. We deplore the behaviour in terms of what has gone on," he said.

But he urged local people to see it as an isolated incident: "It would be very easy to write off students from something like this, but the massive majority are normally very well behaved. And, more than that, they play a very active role in the community - over 1,000 are involved in voluntary work across the city."

Sheffield University is currently reviewing its security arrangements to include patrolling routes between the city centre and student accommodation.

An 'inquest' is being planned next week to consider the implications of this incident and any lessons which can be learned.