Trial News from the March 19 Committee

Today is the beginning of the new term and the March 19 Committee, established to continue the campaigns of the occupation,  has published a special news-sheet on the trials, professionally printed at Fritz Speigel’s Scouse Press.


On Saturday 11 April, after a week of closed hearings, the Board of Discipline announced the sentences imposed on the ten members of last term’s occupation who have been victimised by the University.

The penalties are the most severe ever handed out to student activists at a British University. Seven people were suspended for two years by the Board:

JOHN ASPINALL and RICHARD DAVIES (Law); ANDY BLACK (Philosophy); DANNY FISHMAN (Social studies); SUE ROSINGER (Politics); PHIL GUSACK (Architecture) and IAN WILLIAMS (English).

Two were suspended for one year:

ANDY BURTON (Geology) and JON SNOW (Law).

PETER CRESSWELL (third year Politics) was expelled.

There may be more tough measures to come. Last Thursday 180 students who were also in the occupation and who had signed a declaration of equal responsibility, received postal notification from the Registrar that charges were being considered against them as well.

After handing out the verdict, the Board made the following statement: ”The students made the cardinal error of deciding that, because they felt keenly on certain matters, they were entitled to take forcible action and place themselves above the statutes, ordinances and regulations of the University of Liverpool. The Board is of the opinion that each individual student is a free agent and must accept responsibility for his own actions”.

The ten disciplined students, all of whom pleaded not guilty in all cases were charged with ”conduct detrimental to the discharge of the University.” As part of their defence they maintained that the duties of a university are to stand committed against racialism, secrecy, germ warfare research and oligarchy. By occupying Senate they were not impeding those duties but attempting to implement them.

The trials themselves were a tragic farce. The University used the services of a barrister, hired at a cost of probably £1,800,to prosecute. The prosecution case was presented at great length, whereas defendants’ witnesses, statements and questions were ruled out of order.

The occupation of Senate began on 9th March last term, after the Vice-Chancellor had addressed a meeting of 4,000 students on topics ranging from Lord Salisbury as Chancellor and University investments in South Africa, to files on students’ political activities and chemical warfare contracts at Liverpool.

Stupid move says Bishop

There   is  little   doubt   that   the University   must   be   sadly   disappointed with the overwhelmingly adverse reaction   to   the   sentences.   Obviously hoping to be hailed as the men who started to put students  in their place, all   they  received  was   favourable comments  in   their   favourite   newspapers, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and the good old Liverpool Daily Post. To back this up, a  small group of Tory MPs tabled a motion of “congratulations  to Liverpool’s new Vice Chancellor”.

To counter this, local MP Eric Heffer enlisted support from nearly 100 MPs to condemn the sentences, which he described as “harsh”. The Liverpool Trades Council has supported all the five demands and has slammed the University for its policy of victimisation. Merseyside construction workers have joined in the chorus of condemnation – seeing our struggle as one with which they are all too familiar.

With the Catholic Chaplain “disgusted” with the way the University has handled the affair, and the Anglican Bishop of Whitby, in the leading letter to The Times (15 April) calling the occupying students “the salt of the earth” and castigating the authorities, pressure is mounting. The thing which must be puzzling Vice Chancellor Thomas and his colleagues is that so much opposition has come from quarters to which they looked for support and approval.

Trials – a farce!


Before the hearings began, one of the seven judges had publiciy stated her opposition to the occupation, and another, it had been announced the day before, had been appointed Vice Chancellor of Natal University – scarcely a man who would be expected to be opposed to racialism. The rest were soon to show what their idea of what a fair trial was.

The first of the accused was John Aspinall. This case took all day. Five hours of prosecution – an hour and a half of defence. They had originally intended to give him an hour, but extended it after protests. The prosecution hired a barrister, Stannard; John Aspinall was not allowed to take legal advice. The detailed evidence against the rest of the accused was not only wrong, exaggerated, but quite often trivial.

The following day the Board appeared to be on productivity bonuses. They got through 3 cases, as against one on Monday. Andy Black was constantly interrupted when trying to read out a political statement which justified the occupation. He had to face absurd accusations concerning a porter he had supposedly ‘roughed up’ when witnesses were able to show that no such incident had in fact occurred. Andy Burton’s only defence witness, HH Burchnall, the Registrar, failed to appear. Which is probably why the Board was able to commend the way he conducted his case.

In the case against Richard Davies, the same stream of improbable and inaccurate evidence was accepted by the Board. At one point Chief Security Officer Pugh admitted that when he said the students had ‘stormed’ an office, a more accurate description would be ‘went into’. The Board never asked how much more of the prosecution evidence might be suspect.

Peter Cresswell’s case was, as  it turned out, the most significant. He has been expelled from the University. Yet it was still the same farce in the ‘court room’. HH Burchnall’s account of the incident when Cresswell is supposed to have prevented him from entering the building was totally different from that of any of the witnesses. Even the Board accepted that ”forcible” was perhaps the wrong description of what went on. Yet still they decided to expel him. Perhaps it could have something to do with a long-standing feud between HH Burchnall and P Cresswell?

Phil Gusack was discovered to have made cardboard replicas of palm trees. The Board seemed to have an obsessive interest in the type and quantity of food which was consumed in the occupation during Sue Rossinger’s trial. And Danny Fishman was acccused under the name of  ‘Feldmann’.

Jon Snow’s ability with the mop and broom was discussed at length – and it would appear that this won him a year’s suspension less. When Ian Williams attempted to expose the capitalist nature of the University, the Board listened in disbelief.

The connection between H Chrimes, Treasurer of the University, and H Chrimes, Director of the Daily Post, failed to impress them. Perhaps this was because they have become so used to these facts that they no longer see their significance.

The disturbing thing is that this farce of a ‘court’ was able effectively to end the academic careers of virtually all the students that appeared before it.


Even The Times has said that the severity of the sentences is a reflection of the strength of political pressure on British universities. What we have seen here: the causes of the occupation; the authorities’ refusal to talk; their reply, in the shape of ten carefully selected students for disciplining; and finally, the dishing-out of the harshest-ever punishment given by a British university is all part of the growing Tory ‘Law and Order’ campaign.

The sentences, so unexpected by many who thought that the trials were merely for ‘show’, and that the penalties would be fines, merely reinforce what we already know. We know where the loyalties of the top men of this University lie: to the Big Business interests of Merseyside!  We know where their political affinities lie: to Tory Lords and gutter politicians like Powell, who scream hysterically for ‘The Big Fist’ whenever their position is challenged.

The five points of the occupation, its length, and the form it took all added up to the unforgivable sin. They challenged the privileged position and financial interests of the faceless men who rule this University. The sin was so unforgivable that ”warnings” had to be issued. And those warnings took the form of the sentences – which for eight of the ten men accused mean the virtual end of their University careers. More ”warnings” are to come.

The “Big Fist” technique, so beloved of George Wallace and Spiro Agnew, and closer to home to Enoch Powell and Gerald Nabarro, is the lowest and most obvious form of blackmail the “bright boys of Senate” know.


Where to now?

The students of Liverpool University cannot take the vindictive action of the University without hitting back. Not only is action needed against the sentences imposed by the handpicked axe-men of the Discipline Board, but there still has been no response to the Five Demands of the occupation.

This week decisions will have to be taken on what is to be done this term.

On Tuesday at five pm in the Lounge Hall there will be a meeting of the March 19th Movement – the campaign initiated during the sit-in to continue the struggle of the occupation. This meeting is intended to bring people up-to-date on the events during the vacation, and to reappraise the situation in the light of the University’s actions.

On Wednesday, also at 5 pm in the Lounge Hall, there will be a trial of University officials. Salisbury, Thomas, Burchnall and Chrimes have all been accused of inciting students to occupy Senate House. The members of the Discipline Board are accused of conduct detrimental to the good name of the University. All the accused have been requested to attend the hearing, and the verdict will be reached by a jury of all students present at the meeting.

An official mass meeting of Guild has been called for Thursday lunchtime in the Mountford Hall to decide the Union policy towards the Discipline cases, and this will be followed by an emergency meeting of Guild Council on Thursday evening.

And finally: HB Chrimes on Apartheid:


Further details of the trials and the  evidence the University laid against the Ten in SOCIALIST SOCIETY NEWSLETTER on sale now in the foyer: 6d.

There is no charge for this paper. But there is a fighting fund for defence & publicity of the sentences and the 5 Points. We should appreciate a contribution to the seller.


Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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