Nick Clegg’s visit to St Albans hotel met with protest

AGGRIEVED students took part in a peaceful protest outside a hotel which Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg attended this morning.

Around 30 sixth formers from local schools and others who have already started their degrees marched from the Town Hall in St Albans to Sopwell House in Cottonmill Lane to make their point about the sharp rise in tuition fees which will come into effect in 2012.

Mr Clegg attended the four-star hotel to make the opening keynote speech at The Guardian’s Public Services Summit.

Henry Parkyn-Smith, 18, organised the protest with a small group of like-minded friends who are particularly upset that Mr Clegg reneged on a pre-election promise not to put up tuition fees.

Henry, a former Sandringham School pupil from St Albans, heard that Mr Clegg was going to attend the hotel a couple of weeks back and has since had a meeting with friends to arrange the demonstration as well as handing out leaflets about the march to local students.

The gap year student, who attended the mass protests in London late last year and was disappointed to see the violence, believes that many more students would have turned up to the march had it not been for their schools warning them off the idea in case any violence erupted.

He said: “It took us about half-an-hour to walk down to Sopwell House and we were then there for three quarters of an hour. We saw Nick Clegg in the car as he was leaving and he did actually have quite a stressed out, unhappy expression on his face.

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“There was a pretty good atmosphere. We weren’t allowed on the road or allowed to go up to the hotel so there was only a bit of grass we were allowed to stand on but it was a nice peaceful atmosphere.”

Henry is planning on starting university in September and should therefore avoid the hike in fees, but he said he wanted to make a stand for those that will incur the extra cost.

He added: “The Lib Dems campaigned on the exact opposite to what they are doing now. It’s massive hypocrisy to campaign on one thing and completely betray the people that voted for you, even if you are in a coalition and say you need to make compromises.”

A police officer said: “We will always recognise the right to lawful and safe protests but we have to balance the rights of all involved, acknowledging those who might work there or be using the facility or living nearby. It is the responsibility of protesters that they don’t abuse their rights to protest.”