Police who had to abandon their vehicle after it was ransacked by student protestors yesterday were Sutton officers.

The Sutton Police van was set upon by masked yobs who smashed its windows, set off a smoke bomb inside, sprayed graffiti and then stood on its roof during a march by Whitehall yesterday.

The demonstrators broke inside the vehicle and looted police uniforms and equipment, including body armour.

Other school pupils were seen posing for photographs next to the wreckage, which was sprayed with graffiti.

It is understood personal items belonging to the officers were also inside the van.

The van had been left in the street while officers took part in policing the student protest about rises in tuition fees.

Thousands of students took to the streets in central London.

A group of schoolchildren formed a protective ring around the van to try and stop the vandals.

Police said they did not try and retake the vehicle while it was being vandalised because of fears it could aggravate the situation.

Thousands of students were penned in by officers after the incident to try and prevent further trouble.

A police spokesman said: "It is regrettable that students decided to damage the police van. In order to prevent this happening it would have been necessary to deploy a large number of officers and use substantial force.

"Any action we take must be proportionate and in the best interests of all involved. The criminal damage to the van is disappointing, but the safety of the public must be paramount.

"The van was following the crowd to determine which direction they might take. In a very short space of time, protesters surrounded the van. The officers felt vulnerable and decided the best course of action was to leave the van."

He said equipment had been stiolen from the van. It is understood personals items belonging to officers were also in side the van.

He said they had made a number of arrests relating to the incident, and their enquiries were continuing.