TWO teenagers were arrested for public disorder as more than 250 protesting college students brought traffic to a standstill in a North Essex town centre.

One 17-year-old boy, from Colchester, was given a reprimand after swearing and throwing coins at officers outside Colchester Town Hall.

Onlookers also reported spotting a can being thrown at a mounted police officer.

Eighty police officers from across the county, trained in public order tactics, descended upon the town centre as between 500 and 600 college students protested against the Government's education cuts.

Following a legal march, as many as 250 students broke away and held an illegal sit down protest outside the town hall.

Parents complained the police manhandled students, but Chief Supt Alison Newcomb, divisional commander for Essex Police’s eastern division, said officers were not overzealous.

“I'm really pleased with how the officers managed the protest,” she said.

“One of our key roles was to maintain the flow of traffic and allow shoppers and other visitors to the town to carry out their lawful business.

“A large group of students decided to sit in the middle of High Street, which they were not allowed to do.

“We have a duty as a police service to facilitate protests if they are lawful and we seek to do that with the minimum amount of harm to anybody.

“I'm really pleased that the protest, while elements were unlawful, went ahead without any injuries or any damage to properties.”

Mrs Newcomb said only two people were arrested for public order offences during the operation.

The 17-year-old was released after being given a reprimand and a 16-year-old was still in custody yesterday.

A spokesman for Colchester Sixth Form said students were scheduled to be doing independent study yesterday lunchtime, and that some choose to use the time to attend the planned demonstration.

“The college has been approached by the police to help in providing a safe place away from traffic in which students can gather before the march and we are, of course, were happy to help them in any way that we could,” he said.

Tory North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said: “I think life should carry on as normal and we shouldn’t let students or protesters to be disruptive.

“I am in favour of freedom of speech and some people feel very strongly about this, but I hope the police will take a firm line with any student who breaks the law.”

Clacton's Conservative MP Douglas Carswell were unavailable to comment.