Summary of Evidence: Peter Cresswell

University of Liverpool

Board of Discipline

Summary of Evidence

Case: Peter Cresswell

Date: 8 April, 1970

Charge: That you are guilty of conduct which was detrimental to the discharge of the duties of the University in that:

  1. on 9 March, 1970 and succeeding days you occupied the Senate House and excluded the staff of the University with the intention of hampering the discharge of those duties;
  2. at or about 8.45 a.m. on 10 March, 1970, you forcibly prevented Mr H.H. Burchnall (the Registrar of the University) from ascending the staircase on the ground floor of the Senate House and so reaching his room in order to discharge his duties on behalf of the University.

Plea: Not Guilty

Verdict: Guilty

Penalty: Expulsion from the University with effect from 12 noon on Saturday,11th April, 1970.


  1. Members of the Committee: Pro-Vice-Chancellor W.D. Williams (in the Chair), Pro-Vice-Chancellor L Rosenhead, Professor Hartles, Professor Norbury, Mrs Irene Collins and Dr. R.P.N. Jones
  2. Mr Cresswell, accompanied by Miss S.E. Rosinger (a student)
  3. Mr. J. Stannard (presenting  the case against the student), accompanied by Mr. Gee (solicitor)
  4. The Academic Secretary (Mr R. Butler) and two shorthand typists.


A copy is attached of the Order of Proceeding followed by the Committee in its hearing, an abbreviated version of which was given to the student at the start of the hearing.

Summary of Evidence

The Board received in evidence the following documents of which copies (attached) were sent to the student in advance of the hearing :

  1. A letter dated 19 March, signed by Mr Cresswell, admitting that he had taken part in the occupation of the Senate House and admitting responsibility for all actions taken by the occupants of the Senate House as from Monday, 9 March.
  2. A leaflet issued by those occupying the Senate House, stating the aims of the occupation and including the phrase ‘the administration of the University will not function in the building during the occupation’ .
  3. A covering letter to the Vice-Chancellor delivered with the leaflet mentioned above containing the phrase ‘we intend to prevent the functioning of the University administration’.
  4. A note from the Registrar addressed ‘to those at present occupying the Senate House’ and dated 11 March 1970, formally requiring them to vacate the Senate House forthwith.
  5. A notice from the Registrar dated 19 March, 1970, recounting certain facts relating to the occupation.
  6. A notice from the Vice-Chancellor dated 19 March, 1970, stating some of the consequences of the occupation so far as the administrative work of the University was concerned.
  7. A letter from Mr R. Morris (a student), dated 2 April, 1970 and addressed to the Secretary of the Board, submitted by Mr Cresswell during the course of the hearing, was admitted in evidence by the Board and is referred to below.

The Board ruled that signed statements by witnesses to certain events during the occupation, copies of which had been sent to Mr Cresswell in advance of the hearing, should not be admitted as evidence and that the Board would take account of only such parts of these statements as were reproduced in oral testimony by witnesses before the board.

The Board directed both Mr Stannard and Mr Cresswell to restrict their evidence to matters relating to Mr. Cresswell’s conduct during the occupation and refused a request from Mr Cresswell that he be allowed to call the Vice-Chancellor and the Registrar to give evidence on the duties of the University. Mr Stannard said that the most serious allegation against Mr Cresswell and the most serious against any student arising out of the occupation of the Senate House was that he had forcibly prevented the Registrar from reaching his office on Tuesday 10 March. In addition to this the case was as follows:

  1. Mr Cresswell had been one of those who led the main body of students into the Senate House at the start of the occupation;
  2. Mr Cresswell had been a member of the Steering committee elected to organise and direct the occupation;
  3. Mr Cresswell had taken part in the incident in the Security Superintendent’s Office in which the Security Superintendent’s files had been rifled;
  4. Mr. Cresswell had been generally prominent in the occupation;
  5. Mr Cresswell had acted as a sentry;
  6. Mr Cresswell had signed the letter admitting equal responsibility for all the actions of the occupying students and this included the issue of the pamphlet declaring the intention of the students to prevent the functioning of the University administration and the issue of the covering letter to this pamphlet which had been sent to the Vice-Chancellor.

Mr Cresswell said that he would not wish to contest the fact that he had been a member of the Committee – he had, in fact, been its Treasurer – or that he had acted as a sentry, or that he had signed the letter. He did, however, wish to deny that he had led a column of students into the Senate House at the start of the occupation and that he had pushed the Registrar and he wished to have the opportunity of giving a more accurate account of the incident in the Security Superintendent’s Office than that presented by witnesses for the prosecution.

On the incident relating to the Registrar, the Registrar himself stated in evidence before the Board that he had arrived by car at the Senate House before 9 am on 10 March and had parked in the underground car park . He walked through the basement door into the Senate House and was not noticed till he had progressed some ten or fifteen feet into the building. When his presence was noticed there was some consternation and alarm. He made his way with some difficulty up the stairs to the ground floor, being jostled all the way up by students trying to give him a piece of paper. When he got to the ground floor he saw Mr Cresswell standing on the second or third step on the first flight of stairs leading up from the ground floor, with his arms and legs splayed out and saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry …’

The Registrar was satisfied that Mr Cresswell knew him and knew who he was since Mr Cresswell had been a member of the ‘Committee of Six’ which had spent five or six hours in the company of the Registrar and the Vice-Chancellor and others in the preceeding weeks.  Mr. Burchnall explained to Cresswell that he wanted to get past in order to get to his room and Mr. Cresswell pushed forward slightly so that his body came into contact with Mr. Burchnall’s. In answer to questions from Mr Cresswell, Mr. Burchnall said that, although he was jostled by other students, none of them in fact prevented his progress. Mr. Burchnall said that when Mr Cresswell saw Mr Burchnall coming he jumped up onto the stairs and moved his arms forward slightly in order to prevent Mr. Burchnall going up the stairs. Mr. Burchnall said that there was no action of Mr. Cresswell’s which he would regard as an assault and Mr Cresswell had, in fact, kept his hands on the banisters for most of the time.

Mr Stubbs (a porter) said that he accompanied Mr Burchnall on his entry to Senate House on the morning in question and went up with him from the basement to the ground floor. They were both jostled on their way up and students attempted to thrust papers in Mr. Burchnall’s face. When Mr. Burchnall tried to go up the stairs from the ground floor, Mr Cresswell ran to the staircase and put his hands on the banisters. Mr Burchnall asked Mr Cresswell to let him past but Mr Cresswell refused to do so. Someone then pushed past Mr Stubbs to join Mr Cresswell who then put his hand on Mr Burchnall’s chest and pushed him back. After this Mr Burchnall and Mr. Stubbs turned round and left the building. In answer to a question from a member of the Board, Mr Stubbs said that the words used by Mr Cresswell to Mr Burchnall were ‘You don’t go up’.

Mr Sproson (a student) said that had had been in the basement of Senate House on the morning in question when Mr Burchnall came in. As he entered, someone had shouted ‘ They’re coming in’ and Mr. Sproson had turned  towards Mr Burchnall and said ‘Excuse me …’. Mr Burchnall had replied ‘Excuse me…’ and pushed Mr Sproson on the shoulder and walked past him. Mr Sproson said that he had not attempted to resist Mr. Burchnall’s progress and had gained the impression that he was in an impatient mood. Mr Sinclair (a student) said that he had witnessed the incident between Mr. Cresswell and Mr. Burchnall.  Mr. Cresswell had overtaken Mr. Burchnall on the last flight of stairs up from the basement and had said, ‘Will you not go up yet’.   Mr Burchnall had tried to push past Mr Cresswell, who had backed off and put his hands across the staircase, one on each banister. Mr Burchnall tried again to get past and, when he was unable to do so, turned to the porter who was with him and said, ‘Did you witness that violence’.

Mr Sinclair said that Mr Cresswell did not at any time touch Mr Burchnall with his hands,which were on the banisters all the time. Mr Sinclair said that he had been slightly behind and to the left of Mr Burchnall and could not really see whether his body came into contact with Mr Cresswell’s.  He had, however, formed the impression that Mr Cresswell was backing up the stairs so as to avoid any physical contact, and that Mr Burchnall decided not to create physical contact but turned away before this happened. Mr. Sinclair did not see another student push past the porter and join Mr Cresswell on the stairs.

Mr Sinclair thought that it would have been impossible for Mr Cresswell to back up the stairs at the same time as pushing Mr Burchnall down the stairs. Miss Hickman (a student) said that she also saw the incident between Mr Cresswell and Mr Burchnall.   She had walked through the swing doors onto the landing on the ground floor and had seen Mr Cresswell and Mr Burchnall coming up the stairs from the basement, with Mr Cresswell in the lead. Mr Cresswell had turned round and stopped and Mr. Burchnall hesitated and then went up to Mr Cresswell and said, ‘Are you going to let me get by, Mr Cresswell?’  Mr Cresswell replied, ‘You cannot go up there yet’.   Mr Burchnall then made two attempts to push past Mr Cresswell and then turned and said to the porter, ‘You witnessed that – he used violence’,  or words to that effect. Mr Cresswell had moved his hands from the banisters from time to time and moved them up and down but Miss Hickman was sure that he did not at any stage put a hand on Mr Burchnall or push Mr Burchnall with his chest.  Mr. Cresswell moved back when Mr Burchnall first came up and Mr Cresswell never at any stage moved forward.

Mr Rees (a student) also gave evidence of having witnessed this incident and said that he had seen Mr Cresswell standing on the first step up with his arms out and both hands on the banisters. Mr Burchnall had gone up and pushed Mr Cresswell who retreated a pace or two. Mr Cresswell stopped retreating when Mr Burchnall stopped pushing. Mr Burchnall had to make contact with Mr Cresswell in order to make any progress up the stairs. Mr Rees admitted that the object of Mr. Cresswell was to prevent Mr Burchnall by bodily means rather than by verbal persuasion from getting to his office.

Mr Cresswell said in evidence that he did not deny that it was his intention to prevent Mr Burchnall from reaching his office.  In doing so, however,he was carrying out a decision which had been made by a mass meeting and not by himself. These decisions had been made unanimously and democratically and he had been acting on behalf of the whole body of occupants and not as an individual. He had overtaken Mr Burchnall on the stairs up from the basement and taken up a position on the stairs leading up from the ground floor. He had said to Mr Burchnall,  ‘You can’t go up yet’, and had sent for more people in order that they could decide what to do. Mr Burchnall had said, ‘Mr. Cresswell, let me past’ and Mr Cresswell repeated,  ‘You can’t go up yet’.  Mr Burchnall had pushed forward and Mr. Cresswell had retreated although more slowly. The onus for any physical contact which occurred was thus Mr Burchnall’s. Mr Cresswell admitted, however, that, had Mr. Burchnall continued to advance, he would have stopped him.

On the events surrounding the first entry of the students to the Senate House, Mr Meagher (Head Porter) said that he was on duty in the main foyer of the Senate House at about 2. 15 pm on Monday 9 March when about 200 or more students arrived with two students out in front, two or three paces ahead of the rest. These two were Mr Black and Mr Cresswell. Mr Meagher said, ‘Just a minute, lads, my orders are to keep you in the front of the hall’.

Mr Cresswell replied ‘I’m sorry, Mr Meagher, we are coming through. Mr Meagher then stood aside and the students surged past. Mr Jones (Porter) gave the time of arrival of the students as 1.45 p.m. and said that he was on duty at the Porter’s Desk at the Senate House when they arrived with Mr Cresswell and Mr Black at the head. He (Mr Jones) spoke to Mr. Black and Mr Meagher to Mr Cresswell and asked them to wait. Mr Black had,however, replied to Mr Jones that they were going through and Mr Cresswell had gone past Mr. Meagher and all the students had then passed them. In answer to questions from Mr Cresswell, Mr Jones said that he did not remember seeing Mr Cresswell on that afternoon before Mr Cresswell arrived leading  the main body of students, nor did he remember seeing either Mr Morris (another student) or Mr Roberts (a former student) in the Senate House at that time. Mr Cresswell stated that he had not known Mr Meagher’s name on the first day of the occupation of the Senate House and so could not have taken part in the exchange reported by Mr Meagher. Mr Cresswell then read a letter from Mr Morris dated 2nd April, in which Mr Morris said that he was close to Mr Meagher when he said ‘Just a moment, lads, you are confined to the Hall’, and that it was he (Mr Morris) and not Mr Cresswell who said, ‘Really? Come on then, let’s go’ or words to that effect.

In the light of this and other evidence, the Board accepted that it was not Mr Cresswell who had said to Mr Meagher ‘We are coming through’. Mr Robertson said in evidence that he had entered the Senate House about 2.15 pm on Monday 9th March with Mr Cresswell. They had not been at the head of a column of students and had met no University officials as they went in.  They had seen no porters around. They had gone to the middle of the front part of the entrance hall, not as far as the porter’s desk. After an adjournment, the Board upheld a submission by Mr. Cresswell that Mr Stannard should not be allowed to ask further questions of Mr. Robertson relating to Mr Robertson’s own part in the occupation and about his motives for giving evidence in the case. Mr Cresswell stated that he had in fact visited the Senate House on two occasions on the afternoon in question: first, before the meeting in the Students Union addressed by the Vice-Chancellor had ended, in order to see whether the doors of the Senate House had been locked. He had returned later in order to join the occupation but had not entered leading a column of students behind him.

On the incident in the office of the Security Superintendent, Mr Meagher said that he had gone down with Mr Aspinall (a student) who had been asked by the Security Superintendent (Mr Pugh) to obtain a set of lecture notes from Mr Pugh’s office. Cn arriving outside the office he had seen a number of students in the corridor, of whom one was Mr Cresswell.  As he unlocked and opened the door, he had been pushed from behind and followed into the room by Cresswell and the other students. Mr Cresswell had gone to stand by Mr Meagher’s desk. Mr Meagher made it clear that the contents of his own desk concerned such things as porters and security staff and their overtime and holiday arrangements, and repeatedly asked Mr Cresswell and the other students to leave the office. Mr Cresswell and Mr Black had, however, gone to Mr Pugh’s filing cabinet,which was unlocked. Mr Black pulled files out of the filing cabinet and Mr Cresswell stood behind Mr Black reading the contents of the files over Mr Black’s shoulder.

After about twenty minutes Mr Meagher went away to ask Mr Jones to come and stay in the office until the students had left and it was only after an hour or more that Mr Jones was allowed to remove from Mr Meagher’s desk the documents about which he was particularly concerned and to lock up the office. The entry of the students to the office had caused disruption and disorganisation and prevented Mr Meagher from carrying out his duties. In answer to questions from Mr Cresswell, Mr Meagher said that he did not allege that Mr Cresswell had pushed him into the office nor that Mr Cresswell had looked through the files on Mr Pugh’s desk.

Mr Jones said in evidence that when he arrived in the office Mr. Cresswell had been standing at the corner of Mr Pugh’s desk going through the desk. Mr Cresswell had been reading parts of some documents aloud and asking,  ‘Is this of any interest’ and another student had been sitting at the desk taking notes. Mr Jones had asked the students to leave and made the same point about the contents of Mr Meagher’s desk as had been made by Mr Meagher. As he went towards Mr Meagher’s desk in order to collect up papers which Mr Meagher wished to have removed, however, he had been asked to sit by the door and wait, as it was likely to be some time before the students had finished reading through the papers. He was in fact there for some time and it was only after returning from lunch that he was able to lock up the office.

Mr Jones said that he had made it clear that he objected to the students going through the files in the office and had asked them to leave on more than one occasion.

Mr Aspinall ( a student who had appeared before the Board earlier in the week on a charge similar to that against Mr Cresswell) said that he had accompanied Mr Meagher down to the Security Superintendent’s office and had been immediately behind Mr Meagher when Mr Meagher unlocked the door.  He had not himself pushed Mr Meagher as the door was opened and no one had pushed him (Mr Aspinall). Mr Jones had told Mr Aspinall that Mr Meagher wanted some files removed from his office and Mr Aspinall had gone back to the office with Mr Jones to get them. Mr Aspinall had made it clear to Mr Jones that the students would wish to examine the files before Mr Jones would be allowed to remove them and Mr Jones had sat down whilst they were looked at.  Mr Jones had not protested at this,  and had not asked the students to leave the office.

Mr Aspinall said that Mr Meagher had said on leaving the office words to the effect ‘I don’t care. You may as well carry on’. Mr Aspinall said that he did not infer from this that Mr Meagher consented to what they were doing but maintained that he had not lodged repeated objections.  Mr Aspinall admitted that, had Mr Jones asked them to leave, they probably would not have done so.  Mr Aspinall stated that, whilst he was there, he was the only person who looked through the papers on Mr Pugh’s desk and his purpose in doing that was to find the lecture notes which Mr Pugh had asked him to obtain. He was not aware that any documents had been read aloud. Mr Cresswell said in evidence that he admitted entering Mr Pugh’s office and looking through the files in it, with the exception of those relating to staff , since he had not wanted to interfere with the payment of staff wages.

On the question of Mr Cresswell’s general prominence during the occupation, Mr Jones said that some students had stood out as being particularly’active during the occupation and Mr Cresswell was one of those. He had, f or example,acted as a sentry on the doors of Senate House and had made posters in comection with the aims of the occupation. Mr Cresswell had also been one of those who joined in reinforcing the sentries on the door whenever the alarm was raised at the sight of a policeman or other man in uniform in the vicinity of Senate House. Mr Cresswell disputed the assertion of any general prominence on his part during the occupation.

Finally, Mr Cresswell stated that he wished to dispute that the actions ‘which he had taken had been detrimental to the discharge of the duties of the University. He was opposed to racialism, to chemical and biological warfare, to secrecy and to oligarchy, and his action had been designed to ensure that the University fulfilled its wider duties to society in these respects. He had felt that there was no remaining alternative to taking direct action, since attempts to achieve this objective through constitutional channels, culminating in the occasion on which the Vice-Chancellor had addressed the meeting in the Students’ Union on Monday 9th March, had shown that these were ineffective.

The duties which the University fulfilled at present were concerned with producing people who would serve the interests of those who controlled society at present. The duties of the University should be to provide for members of the working class the education which they needed and deserved. His aim was to produce a socialist university in a socialist society and he would not be deterred from this by the threats of this or any other court, or the Regulations of this or any other university.

In summing up for the prosecution, Mr Stannard referred first to the incident involving the Registrar.Mr Stannard made it clear that it was not part of the charge that Mr Cresswell had assaulted the Registrar, although the incident had,in fact, involved a technical assault. The charge was that Mr Cresswell had ‘forcibly prevented’  the Registrar from reaching his office and the salient word was ‘prevented’.  Mr Cresswell had resisted the advance of Mr Burchnall, who had a right and a lawful occasion to proceed to his office and was entitled to use reasonable force in getting there.The differing accounts of the incident which had been given to the Board should not cause surprise since the incident had lasted only a few moments and had taken place in an atmosphere of tension and confusion.

On the question of the entry of students to the Senate House, it mattered little whether Mr Cresswell was a leader or a forerunner of the main body of students and Mr Cresswell had admitted  he went as a forerunner in order to see that the doors were open. Mr Cresswell  had admitted that he was a member of the committee and that he acted as its Treasurer, and had also admitted being concerned in reading through the files in Mr. Pugh’s office, acting as a sentry on the doors of Senate House, and writing the letter admitting responsibility for all actions taken by the occupying students. His prominence was evidenced by his part in reinforcing the sentries on the door, by undertaking duties as a sentry at other times and by writing out posters to further the aims of the occupation.

In summing up for the defence, Mr Cresswell repeated that his first visit to Senate House on the first day of the occupation had been in advance of the entry of the main body of students and he could not, therefore, be held to have led the students into occupation. He would not wish to dispute the remarks of Mr Stannard concerning the incident relating to Mr Burchnall and the incident of the Security Superintendent’s office. He did, however, wish to stress that every action taken during the occupation was a result of a democratic decision taken by a mass meeting and all the students taking part, therefore, must take equal responsibility.

He admitted that he had prevented the duties of the University from being carried out, insofar as those duties were understood by the Board and by persons like the Registrar and the Vice-Chancellor. His concern was, however, to change the nature of the duties of the University.

The Board adjourned, and on resuming, the Chairman announced that the Board had found the charge against Mr Cresswell proved.  Mr. Creswell was informed of his rights of appeal and that the period of ten days allowed to him in which to lodge an appeal would date from the day on which the Board’s penalty in his case was announced.

Mr Cresswell waived his right to make a plea in mitigation and the Board adjourned to consider the penalty.


3 thoughts on “Summary of Evidence: Peter Cresswell”

  1. To be honest, without nonsense, apart from gaining a degree certificate, pretty much everything else, Pete won. Good!

  2. Anyone remember a cleaner in Senate House named Mary Jones, she was a neighbour of mine, but lost touch and would love to see her again.

  3. Peter,

    Well done for receiving you honorary degree from UoL yesterday. You speech was moving and looking for the picture of you remove the first brick when Salisbury Hall is demolished

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