Students in court after protest

9 December 1969

This report, from today’s Guild Gazette, describes the involvement of the Liverpool contingent in last week’s demonstration in Manchester against the touring South African rugby team.  About 20 students from Liverpool were arrested, though only seven were subsequently charged:

Seven coaches and three double decker buses containing over 300 students, left the Union last week to join the 5,000-strong demonstration against the Springbok tour in Manchester organised by the ‘Stop the Tour’ Committee.

On arrival at about 12.30, the Liverpool contingent fell in behind their scarlet banner, organised by SocSoc, which read, “Liverpool Students against Apartheid”.

The march set off through Manchester to the White City playing ground where the match was being held, chanting ”Racialists out”, and “Fascists go home”.

The first serious attempt to check the march by the police came about half a mile from the ground at a cross roads. With motorbikes and a cordon they tried to split the march in two. At once the marchers sat down and although this delayed the march considerably, it hindered the police.

After five minutes of this the marchers moved forward again, led by a rush through of marchers led by a black skull and crossbones anarchist banner, followed by the scarlet Liverpool banner.

Almost immediately, came the first police cordon. After a fair amount of pushing it gave way, but another formed up further along.

Every new route to the ground found, was effectively blocked by the police quickly moving their forces round the back to reinforce the existing cordon. Soon the position was hopeless and the town hall was set as the new objective. Led by a prominent Manchester Union banner the march set off, now a homogeneous mass of different groups, the original contingents being broken up in the fights at the cordons.

The strategy which eventually emerged was quick changes in direction to put off and scatter the police trying to contain the march.

At the Town Hall, the crowd gathered at the steps around the statue in front, and shouted for the mayor.

All in all about 100 students were arrested by the police, including 20 from Liverpool but only seven were officially charged. One Liverpool student was charged with a breach of the peace and held in a small cell with inadequate facilities until 2 am, while another has been charged with assault which is a serious matter. A fund is being organised to pay any fines levied.

People were caught if they were right at the front or on the fringes, shouting directions. Towards the end as the police got on top they began grabbing and manhandling people who were running or shouting advice and several Liverpool students were injured in the affray.

Letters are being written to the NUS and National Council for Civil Liberties over the behaviour of the police, particularly, the photographing of every student held, as a potential ‘student agitator’.

Each demonstrator who went by coach was charged 5/- but even so the total cost was £78 which according to the organiser, Mr Dave Robertson is to be paid by the Guild.

However a motion to this effect passed at Guild Council was declared invalid by the Executive not only because it was not on the agenda but because the Finance Committee is not empowered to give money to outside political activities in such a manner.

Mr Peter Brown has also commented that those responsible for the demonstration ought to be made to pay for the slogans scrawled on the walls being cleaned off and the hire of the Mountford Hall two weeks ago to discuss the demonstration.

Demonstrators on their way to the White City ground being cordoned off by police

Footnote from the future (2010)

In 2004, Jon Snow published his account of his early years and his career in journalism, Shooting History. In it there is his account of being one of the Liverpool students arrested on the Manchester demonstration:

In some senses, in the autumn of 1969 we were actively in search of the issue with which to confront the authorities at Liverpool. […]

It was Peter Hain, subsequently a Labour Cabinet Minister, who finally identified our cause. Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had spent the previous months preaching change through ‘economic engagement’ with the South African apartheid regime. Wilson and others had gone soft on economic sanctions, and the apartheid state was consolidating its hold amid calls from Nelson Mandela’s beleaguered African National Congress (ANC)  to black South Africans to burn their passbooks. British culpability and collusion with apartheid were clear, but what was Liverpool’s connection?


In November 1969 Peter Hain, himself South African by birth, came north with his ‘Stop the Seventy Tour’ campaign. The South African Springboks rugby team were already in Britain, while a cricket tour was to take place in the summer. Hain’s ultimately hugely successful campaign recognised that sport was very close to the heart of the apartheid regime. It was the public, competitive and white face of South Africa. We might not be able to spring Mandela from Robben Island, but we could at least stop his jailers from playing sport in our green and pleasant land. Hain’s target was the Springboks’ match at Old Trafford in Manchester. […]

Several hundred of us hit the East Lancs highway bound for Old Trafford. Our job was to try to prevent that afternoon’s match from taking place at all. I noticed some of our number carried less than discreet spades with them.

Old Trafford was set for war. There were police and demonstrators everywhere. Hain stood on a flatbed truck outside the ground together with other luminaries urging a peaceful protest. The men with the spades were already worming their way into the ground. It didn’t take long for things to turn nasty. The police started trying to corral us into sectors further from the gates, so that spectators could get in. The idea that someone had taken the decision to come and watch the match delineated them for us as out-and-out racists and supporters of apartheid, which in a discreet kind of a way I guess they were. Fights broke out. The police charged, and I felt a knee thrust hard into my groin. I thrust back, and within seconds I was pinned to the ground by three Mancunian cops and carted off in a paddy wagon to Old Trafford police station.

‘Jonathan George Snow, you have been arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer’. ‘Damn me,’ I thought, ‘that’s my law career up the spout. No more barristering for me. Is this a criminal record I see before me?’

‘Have you anything to say?’

‘Not guilty, sir!’

It was six in the evening when I was taken down to the cells. The police wanted £100 bail for me, and I had no money to get back to Liverpool. I counted eleven others in my cell, and one bucket in the corner. There must have been ten cells, which meant maybe over a hundred arrested in this police station alone. Despite our numbers, I felt daunted by the charge hanging over me, and by the thought of what my father and the university authorities would say. My turn for the solitary pay phone came at 4.30 a.m., by which time, having spent the night slumped on a concrete floor, I was in far from the best of spirits.

In those days I lived in a flat on Liverpool’s Mount Street next door to the poet Adrian Henri, a sweet place opposite the old College of Art where John Lennon had studied. My flatmate Simon Polito was a charming but completely apolitical character. He proved utterly dependable in a storm, however. He leapt out of bed in response to my plaintive call, summoned legal assistance in the inebriated student form of John Aspinall, later a judge, and hurtled down the East Lancs in his VW to our assistance. Simon fixed the bail and was not in the least judgemental, and John set to with how we would run the defence. I was remanded to appear before a stipendiary magistrate in a week’s time.

The Liverpool law faculty had the decency to accept the basic tenet of English law, ‘innocent until proved guilty’. My father hadn’t found out. So for the moment I was in the clear, but it was a serious charge, and if found guilty I knew everything would change. I decided to defend myself, and to go for the old chestnut of appealing to the magistrate’s sense of social justice. In other words, to leave him in no doubt that we were of the same social class. I appeared with my shoulder-length hair neatly kempt, and my body in a suit borrowed from Simon, who fortunately was as tall as me.

PC Wilson was a small man for a policeman, perhaps five foot eight. I was six foot four. ‘Officer, is it possible that your knee came into contact with my groin?’ I asked straight off. I had thought he would deny it, but no. ‘Yes, sir, quite possible, ln the act of perambulation, on the move, quite possible,’ he said. ‘Officer, could you please walk between the witness box and the dock?’

For a moment it looked as if the magistrate might refuse my request, but PC Wilson walked. ‘Officer’ I asked, ‘I wonder if we could estimate the height to which your knee rises in this act of perambulation?’

‘Two foot I should say, sir.’

I addressed the magistrate. ‘I think the court should know that my inside leg measures thirty-six inches. For twenty-four inches to collide with thirty-six inches would require a deliberate upward thrust. I would submit that it was I who was assaulted.’

I felt a pang of remorse for PC Wilson as the magistrate intoned, ‘Case dismissed. You may leave the court.’ I knew that if I’d been a working-class lad he’d have got me – after all, I most certainly had booted PC Wilson back. My legal career survived another day, but not for many more.


Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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