Archive photo: Student demo, London, November 1988

On the day that I got my very first mobile phone I was sent to photograph a student anti-loans demonstration in London. Nobody was expecting anything other than a march by angry students on a very grey day in London. Part of the way through the march there was a large break away group that decided to head for Parliament – which was not on the agreed route. By the time they had broken away and reached the west side of Westminster Bridge the Metropolitan Police already had a cordon across with vans, horses and a large number of officers. Scuffles, charges and fights ensued but the police line held and the students never made it to Parliament – less than 200 metres away.

Photo: © Neil Turner | 24 November 1988

Contrast this photo with the student riots of 2011: the police are wearing no special clothing, no high visibility jackets, no shields and there was no overt photographing or filming of the students either. No buildings were ransacked, damaged or invaded and the whole thing felt relatively civilised. It did feel weird to be able to talk to reporters, other photographers and even the picture desk on the phone in the middle of a mini-riot: my phone was a Motorola 8000s which was known as the “City Brick” because it was so big and bulky.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have a happy ending (apart from two front pages and a ‘congratulations’ from the editor). A few years before, I had broken a toe playing cricket and during the demo I had the same toe re-broken when a police horse moved backwards and trapped me between it and a van, crushing my toe. As a freelance, I couldn’t afford any time off so I limped from job to job over the following three or four weeks to Christmas. I also had a lens damaged and wasn’t properly insured so my old 35mm f2.8 Nikkor was replaced with a newer 35mm f2.

The camera and lens combo here was a Nikon FM with a 35mm f2.8 Nikkor using Kodak Tri-X film.

3 comments

  1. Hey there Neil – agree with some but not all of what you say…
    The agreed route was originally to go past parliament, but on the day the police changed their mind when they saw how many people had turned up. They redirected us to the other side of the river, but all the route maps we had were printed days before.
    We still believed that they would let us go by parliament when we got to the other side of Westminster Bridge – that’s why so many people stopped there as the march moved on…
    There was only a single line of police (as you show in the photo), so if we students had wanted to be aggressive and cross the bridge we would have. But we were civilised and didn’t. When the vans pulled back we all thought that we had been finally given the go-ahead to progress on to parliament so the crowd surged. We were then hit by a full on police horse charge (the riders had their police numbers covered in black tape). Sorry to hear that you were injured by one of them – I know a few who were hurt much worse (some when inside the police vans they were placed after being arrested).

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      1. Could I get a copy of you pictures–please. This is my recollection: I was at the front of the march and others decided to change direction; the purpose of the change was to march over Westminster Bridge and terminate on Parliament. In practice it was just for confrontation and people stopped some meters onto the bridge and and waited for the police to arrive. There was a substantial element that was shouting “kill the pigs” and there was no drive to go over bridge but to wait for confrontation. It was interesting watching the agitators and communication between them. Some police vans and limited presence came and blocked the road and I was squeezed against a police man and the side of a van. My arms were locked straight against the van with him between. He was scared and I told him not to worry but drop down and go under the van to the other side. Police reinforcements and mounted arrived and the situation escalated. There were some mounted charges and remember a woman hurting her leg. I ended up on the floor at some stage when I was grabbed and dragged towards Westminster thinking things were about to get worse. I was released from grip and looked up, I was told one good turn deserved another and to run which I did.

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