Manchester University takes students to High Court over occupation of Simon building

Students occupying the Simon building ‘have no intention of leaving until we are forced to by baliffs’.

Yesterday afternoon, in Manchester High Court, a judge granted the University of Manchester a possession order for the entire South Campus. This means the University can now hire baliffs to evict the protesting students from occupied lecture halls. It does not apply to residential parts of campus and it does not affect rent striking students in halls.

This happened as the occupation of the Simon building by UoM Rent Strike reached its 40th day. Occupiers said they have no intention of leaving until they are forced to by baliffs.

Mr Taylor, a second year law student, acted as a legal representative. He argued under article 10 and 11 of the European Human Rights Convention that the right of the students to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly would be impeded by the Possession Order.

Refering to case law, SOAS vs Persons Unkown 2010, the judge pointed out that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly do not apply on private land.

Mr Taylor tried to argue that the entire South Campus, which falls under several different land registry titles, and has a public road through the middle, does not count as a single property. The University argued that a possession order of the entire South Campus was necessary to prevent future occupations. They quoted a previous Tab article in which the occupiers had been quoted saying: “The more rooms we have the more disruption we can cause to pressure the Uni to meet our demands.”

Patrick Hackett (senior UoM staff), drawn by a student

The judge said: “If they didn’t try to occupy somewhere else it wouldn’t be a very good protest,” which made the whole room laugh. Then he granted the possession order for the entire South Campus.

A group of students who support the occupiers attended the trial in the public veiwing gallery. SU officers, Robbie Beale and Tesnime Safraou also attended.

After leaving court, several students tried to ask Patrick Hackett, a member of the University’s senior leadership team, why he has not addressed the concerns of the rent strikers. He was taken out a back door of the court by staff, and let into a waiting cab.

An anonymous representative of Manchester Leftist Action who was present said: “We have campaigned on issues of housing, workers conditions, security abuses of power and cost of living at this University for several years. The fact that this is the first time we have seen a member of senior management in person, when they are taking us to court to suppress our right to protest, is ridiculous.

“Patrick Hackett refused to answer any of our concerns and slunk away through a back door. They may have won in that room, but we know the fact they’ve already spent so much money to fight us means they’re afraid of the power students have when we organise.”

Drawing of court by a student

A spokesperson for UoM Rent Strike 2023 said: “At every turn the University has stopped us being able to speak out on the rent hikes and unacceptable condition of student halls, its unsurprising to see them turn to the courts and legal system to try and force occupiers out of the Simon building. This will only make us more determined to keep up the fight for the rent strike demands. Any UoM students can show their support by voting in the referendum this week. Students in halls can join the hundreds of students already rent striking by cancelling their direct debit for the 20th of April.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “Following numerous communications to the small group of students illegally occupying University buildings, and repeated notices to end the occupation, we attended court on Monday to obtain a court order to regain possession which was granted. It is unfortunate that this action has become necessary, but the occupation has significantly disrupted the experience of other students and staff across the University and resulted in health and safety breaches, entry to private office spaces and injury to colleagues, with the occupiers making it clear they have no intention of leaving.”

The occupiers have denied any injury to staff, and when police were called to the Simon building on the 19th of February for the alleged assault of security staff, they left for lack of evidence.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

LIVE: Manchester Uni threatens occupiers with potential expulsion if they don’t leave by 4pm

• Manchester students barricade themselves in as staff fail to enter occupied management offices

• Manchester doesn’t believe students are withholding rent. So we’re getting the screenshots