A huge demonstration against tuition fees by tens of thousands of students and lecturers descended into violence today when a group of protesters smashed their way into the headquarters of the Conservative party.
A number of police officers were injured after they came under attack from youths, some wearing scarves to hide their faces, amid scenes of chaos.
Eight people were taken to hospital with injuries after the violence flared at Millbank Tower, next to the River Thames in central London.
The demonstration, organised by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, started peacefully, with up to 50,000 students, lecturers and supporters, marching from Whitehall past Downing Street and Parliament.
But around an hour after the protest started, violence flared at Millbank Tower, close to the Tate Britain art gallery where the march was due to end with a rally.
Hundreds of workers were evacuated from the building, which also houses other organisations including Government agencies, as windows were smashed and a fire was lit.
About 50 protesters got on to the roof, dropping a large metal fire extinguisher on to riot police. Water fire extinguishers were also let off from the roof and eggs were thrown.
On the ground, sticks and other missiles were thrown at police from a crowd of at least 1,000 spilling out on to the normally busy road alongside the building.
Placards and banners were being burnt, to cheers from the crowd, while protesters inside the building used chairs as they smashed and kicked their way through more of the glass frontage, effectively opening up the whole atrium to the crowd.
One policewoman with a bloody wound to her head was led away from the side of the building by two colleagues. A stick was thrown at her as she went.
A confetti of torn newspaper rained down on the hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Millbank atrium after students gained access to the upper floors of the building.
Water also poured down on them, seemingly from a broken sprinkler system above.
A red flare was let off as the atmosphere within the crowd became increasingly volatile.
The crowd responded to the heavy police presence with loud booing, screaming and chanting.
Students who had got inside the building’s atrium tried to pull down the few remaining huge sheets of glass.
Others hurled stuffed pillows while the chants of “Tory scum” increased in volume.
A Conservative Party spokesman said that all its staff were “safe” but could not confirm whether or not they had been evacuated from the building.
NUS president Aaron Porter said a small minority of protesters had “hijacked” the march, describing the violence as “despicable”.
He said the violence was not part of the organisers’ plans, blaming the trouble on a “small minority” he believed had arranged it beforehand.
“We talked about the need to prevent anything like this and how important it was to act in a responsible way. Unfortunately a minority have undermined us.”
An NUS spokesman said: “The trouble makers have let down students.”
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The actions of a minority should not distract from today’s message. The overwhelming majority of staff and students on the march came here to to send a clear and peaceful message to the politicians. The actions of a minority, out of 50,000 people, is regrettable.”