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Anniversary of student occupation
Students on roof of Liverpool University
Students on the roof of Senate House during the protest

Ex-students of the University of Liverpool have been marking the 40th anniversary of their occupation of the institution.

In 1970 several hundred students occupied Senate House in protest at investments in South Africa.

They were angry at the university's support for an apartheid regime.

Channel Four newsreader Jon Snow was expelled for his part in the protest, "It was an absolute watershed in my life," he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"It was a massive event in which huge numbers of people were involved, thousands."

"It was sublime to be alive, it was sublime to be in Liverpool"

The students demands included the removal of Liverpool University's chancellor Lord Salisbury who the accused of sympathising with white regimes in South Africa and what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

"We were of course revolutionaries in search of a cause really more than anything else," Jon Snow explained.

"But at the same time, genuinely there was a degree of idealism around.

"The greatest cause of a number we were campaigning on was Liverpool's links, they weren't alleged links, they were absolute links with apartheid.

Jon Snow
Channel Four newsreader Jon Snow was one of the students expelled

"They had a very strong investment portfolio and interest...and we felt that a liberal arts institution, engineering, medicine all the rest of it shouldn't have anything to do with apartheid in any sense."

"Forty years ago people thought we were monsters and loonies, today people think that anybody who did any deals with South Africa were monsters and loonies."

"I think we went down for a great cause.

"In the end the university responded like no other university in the country did, it expelled ten of us, some of us were allowed back.

"I never went back."

The current Vice Chancellor of Liverpool University, Sir Harold Newby has written to some of the former students involved at the time expressing his regret at the way they were treated.

"The University of Liverpool is committed deeply to freedom of expression and your voice and actions serve as a legacy to the freedoms we enjoy, preserve and defend within higher education," he wrote.

"I can offer you a personal view which is that I feel a deep sense of sadness that your days as a student at the University of Liverpool were terminated in such circumstances."

Professor Newby also offered the ex students the use of facilities at the university for part of their reunion on Saturday, 20 March, 2010.

Jon Snow says that although his memories of his treatment still hurt he thinks Liverpool University is a far different institution 40 years on.

"They behaved outrageously, they denied us natural justice, they spent vast amounts of money on a QC to put their case," he said.

"We were undefended until our appeal when the wonderful Professor of Law at the London School of Economics came up to defend us.

"It was a very dark day for civil liberties at the University."

Senate House
Protestors head in to Liverpool University's Senate House in 1970

"But let me say this, I've been back to the University for the first time this year. The first time since I was expelled and it is an absolutely different place with just not the slightest relationship to the ridiculous institution that kicked us out forty years ago, I'm incredibly impressed with what's happened since."

Looking back he says he has no regrets over his actions and that his life was changed for the better.

"It completely detonated my life's progress because I was in line to become an extremely mediocre and wonky lawyer," he recalled.

"I was in the Law Faculty, I was struggling around sort of below the waist of the outfit, I should think I was well down the order of people in the Law Faculty.

"But I was intent on becoming a barrister, that of course was out of the question after that, I didn't have a law degree and the rest of it.

"I am grateful to Liverpool more than I can say, being sent down was the best thing that ever happened to me."




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