In the months that followed the Toxteth riots in 1981, students were viewed as fair game for a punch in the face by some scousers. The university was seen as an elitist institution and the students as cosseted middle-class kids. Now, these stereotypes didn’t completely hold water and students at the university came from a wider range of backgrounds than some believed.
I remember local people in Liverpool referring to the Uni as the “hotel on the hill” and there was a perception that we were the gilded youth. I’m not sure things were quite as golden as the locals thought but that said, our prospects were better than the average scouser aged eighteen in 1982.
Undergraduates were beaten up and attacked. One Liverpool University student who came a cropper allowed himself to be photographed by the student paper, Guild and City Gazette, sporting two black eyes and a busted nose above the headline:
This student had been set upon by ten youths aged between 18 and 21 in the Aigburth area of the city. As the paper discovered, this was by no means an isolated case. In the course of its investigations, a litany of robberies and attacks was uncovered.
A lecturer had been mugged outside the Roxby building with £20 stolen; a History undergraduate was knocked to the floor and £300 taken; a woman saw youths trying to steal her car and was knocked down and mugged; another lecturer had recently been beaten up in Abercromby Square in broad daylight and a ‘gang of 15 locals’ had turned up at the Brook House pub on Smithdown Road to beat up some students inside.
The University’s Security Superintendant warned that “the number of incidents of this nature is definitely on the increase”. A University spokesman agreed that there was a trend. “We are concerned that such attacks are becoming fashionable among teenagers in the area.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that much of this violence against students was part of the simmering aftermath of the Toxteth riots in 1981. The underlying issues behind that disturbance had not gone away. Unemployment was endemic. Poverty was rife. And the university was perceived of as remote and uncaring.
I organised a campaign on campus with a group called Community Action to open up university facilities to local youth to try and break down the psychological wall between students and local youth. And we got nowhere with the university. They had no wish to make facilities like the Sports Hall available to young people in Toxteth even though the swimming pool was empty most of the day.