LSE pro-Palestinian students told to leave encampment

Students at the London School of Economics have protested against LSE's alleged ties to Israel
Students at the London School of Economics have protested against LSE's alleged ties to Israel - Mark Kerrison/In Pictures/Getty

Students at the London School of Economics (LSE) have been ordered to leave their pro-Palestinian encampment after losing the first stage of a legal battle.

The group were issued an interim possession order at a court hearing on Friday, requiring them to disband their sit-in at the university within 24 hours.

LSE launched legal action against the students earlier this month after they set up an encampment in the atrium of the university’s Marshall Building on May 14.

At the hearing at Central London County Court, District Judge Kevin Moses said the students were “aware of the difficulties they are causing the claimants” and “other users of the premises”.

He added that while the students had the right to protest, “what it does not do is give parties an unfettered right to occupy other parties’ premises with a view to protesting, particularly when they are required to leave”.

The activists have occupied the building for a month in protest against LSE’s alleged ties to Israel.

The action was prompted by a report by LSE students published on May 13, which claimed £89 million of the university’s investments are tied up in assets related to the conflict in Gaza, fossil fuels, the arms industry, and nuclear weapons production.

Students at the encampment have made several demands to the university, including to divest from companies found to be “complicit in crimes against the Palestinian people” and other “egregious activities”.

The group is also calling for LSE to direct some of its scholarship funding to Palestinian students, help finance the rebuilding of destroyed Gazan universities, and publicly condemn Israel’s actions in the conflict.

LSE has said it would carefully consider the report and hoped for “peaceful dialogue” with students.

Encampments have sprung up across British universities in protest against the war in Gaza, following demonstrations at American universities since mid-April, which have resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Protests against the war in Gaza are taking place at British universities including UCL
Protests against the war in Gaza are taking place at British universities including UCL - Abdullah Bailey/Avalon

More than a dozen sit-ins are still in place on British campuses, including at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Bristol and University College London.

Oxford was forced to cancel exams on Thursday after pro-Palestinian protesters stormed an exam hall. The university said end-of-year exams for 153 second-year chemistry students were called off.

The University of Birmingham became the latest institute to request a court order to end an encampment this week. Adam Tickell, the vice-chancellor, said he made the decision with a “heavy heart” but claimed protests had escalated in recent days, leaving buildings damaged and staff intimidated.

Mr Tickell said his team would continue to seek an alternative solution that would allow activists to exercise the right to protest while “allowing the university’s normal activities to continue”.

LSE’s legal proceedings against the protest group centred on the potential fire risk posed by the encampment, alongside its “considerable cost and disruption”.

Pictures shared on social media in recent weeks showed protest flags draped above tents in the central atrium of the Marshall Building.

Riccardo Calzavara, representing LSE in court, said the students had taken over the site “unlawfully” after storming the building a month ago.

The interim possession order allows LSE to temporarily remove the students until a later court hearing. According to the legal definition, trespassers who fail to leave within 24 hours of the order being handed out will be found guilty of an offence under section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

If at a future hearing the court finds that the occupiers have trespassed then the possession order will be made permanent.

Pro-Palestinian protesters camp outside Manchester University
Pro-Palestinian protesters camp outside Manchester University - Christopher Furlong/Getty

Daniel Grutters, representing three of the students on Friday, insisted they were not blocking other people from accessing the building and that they could make adjustments to the camp in response to safety concerns.

“To the extent that the claimant is relying on health and safety risks, the defendants are willing to comply with any and all health and safety adjustments and recommendations made,” he told the court.

“Seeking to remove them, only to allow them to re-enter but for spending the night, is not a decision that is maintainable.”

A further hearing will be set for a later date.

An LSE spokesman said: “Following careful consideration, including in relation to the safety of the protestors (1), LSE pursued civil legal proceedings against the unauthorised encampment in the Marshall Building. This decision was taken after exhausting all other options.

“On Friday 14 June, the protestors came to the civil court with legal representation to put forward their position. The court subsequently granted LSE’s request for an interim possession order (IPO).

“This means that the protesters will be issued with a legally binding order to leave the building within 24 hours. We hope they will do so.”

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