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Page last updated at 13:40 GMT, Friday, 10 December 2010
Barnsley girl's account of violence at fees protest

Police and protestors at fees protest
Police officers clash with protestors during student demonstrations in central London

Rachel Bergan from Barnsley is 17 and looking to her future.

University might well be a part of that future so Rachel and some of her friends made their way to London on 9 December to join the student protests over planned increases to tuition fees.

In spite of an agreement to leave the demonstration if it turned violent, Rachel found herself at the centre of clashes between protestors and police.

'It was awful'

Still shaken up, with tremors in her voice, Rachel told BBC Radio Sheffield how she and her friends tried to leave when the protest turned violent.

In angry scenes, protesters battled with police in Parliament Square. Hundreds were contained on Westminster Bridge for a time by officers.

There were angry clashes as protesters - some throwing missiles - fought to break through police lines.

Rachel and her friends found themselves caught between the violence and police.

"We were right at the front. There was a huge crowd behind us so we were pushed forward. There was nothing we could do about it.

"They [the police] saw us coming towards them, these teenage girls who wanted to go home.

"They didn't show any mercy whatsoever. They threw around my friends who were just 17 year old slim girls. They were beating my friends with batons.

"They didn't show any sympathy in their voice and I didn't see anything in their eyes.

"It was awful. I've never experienced anything like it."

Trying to find a way out Rachel got on the phone to her mother, Anne, back in Barnsley to ask for advice. It was a disturbing call for Anne to receive:

Bench on fire in Parliament Square
Protestors burn wooden benches in Parliament Square

"She was crying down the phone, I could hear girls screaming and crying in the background. It was the most horrible, scary thing I've heard, I just don't know how they got through it."

Anne said she called the Metropolitan Police to ask them what to do:

"They said to go to the front line and tell the policemen that they wanted to come home and to plead their case which was the worst advice they could have given her.

"I passed this advice on and they did go to the front line."

'I don't want to go through that again'

According to Rachel, after begging in tears to be let out, she and her friends got through one police line but were then halted by another.

"We were traumatised at this point. We were crying. We'd been hit by police for just wanting to go home. We were begging to, please, just let us go home. They showed no mercy whatsoever.

"Then we got pushed forward a second time and as we were going forward we were saying 'please don't hurt us, just don't hurt us, we want to go home'.

"I managed to break away. I was pushed into a ditch by a police officer and when I tried to get out of the ditch he pushed me back in.

"I turned around to see a group of my friends on the floor getting beaten by police officers.

"I received a text later from a friend who didn't manage to escape, saying that he was thrown to the floor by the neck. He was beaten on the floor by three police officers until he was throwing up blood and when that happened they just threw him aside and didn't give him any medical attention and went on to the next one.

"These were just innocent people who wanted to go home."

Superintendent Julia Pendry from the Metropolitan Police said officers had come under sustained attack and condemned "acts of wanton vandalism, wanton violence" by protesters.

Scotland Yard said 12 officers and 43 protesters were injured and 34 people were arrested.

Broken fences
A statue of Winston Churchill overlooks fences broken in the demonstration

Now safely back at home with her family, Rachel is still opposed to the tuition fees increase and wants her views heard but she is uncertain whether she would join another protest.

"I don't want to go through that again. I didn't plan on getting into any violence at all but the police trapped us within the violence. We couldn't get out.

"There were fires all over the place. Obviously, the longer they were kept in there, the more worked up people were getting.

"If you saw your daughter or your best friend on the floor, getting beaten by a man, twice her size who had armour on, wouldn't you get enraged?

"Even in the police, in the government, who has the right to do that to another human being?"

Reprieve for Sheffield students
06 Dec 10 |  South Yorkshire
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04 Dec 10 |  South Yorkshire



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