Live blog: Warwick Summit on Protest

warwick-injunction

We’ll be liveblogging the Warwick Summit on Protest today from 16:00 UK time. The Summit was proposed by Warwick Law School’s Centre for Human Rights in response to events on campus last term which saw the University summoning the police to a Free Education demonstration that involved an occupation of Senate House. Students claim that a peaceful protest was disrupted by police intervention and that among other things CS spray was deployed on a student, a taser was drawn with the threat of use, and several students were otherwise assaulted. More details, including the University’s and police’s version of events, can be found here.

Note: we are running the liveblog because it has been decreed that the one permitted video stream be unavailable to our friends around the world. The liveblog will attempt to convey the sense of the debate at the Summit but cannot hope faithfully to transcribe the precise words of each person. Accordingly the following is only our opinion of how events are proceeding and the thrust of the argument, and anyone seeking an exact view of any participant should refer themselves to that person. We should also add that given the arrest and charging of certain friends, matters may arise which are sub judice and which we will not cover so as not to prejudice any defence.

15:50

Welcome! The Summit is being held at the Warwick Arts Centre and it is starting to fill up. The VC Nigel Thrift is here with Ken Sloan, as is the Shief Supt. Clare Bell Coventry Constabulary, three uniformed police officers, and up to a dozen university security staff in suits. Also on the panel are Callum Cant and Hope Worsdale from Free Education. Finally we have Jo Horsburgh, Dep Registrar and responsible for security, and Marc Kennel from Warwick security.

16:00

The Chair is Warwick Law School’s James Harrison. There is a bit of delay as the room continues to swell. There are about 150 people in the room with more entering all the time. We have been asked to make more space.

By the way, you’ll have to refresh to update this blog.

16:05
About 180-200 people here no. James Harrison begins by stating that he hopes through the Summit to increase knowledge of what happened, increase understanding between all sides, and ultimately to change how protest is treated in the future. The appears to be the first UK university to do this. He introduces the survey undertaken by the Centre for Human Rights which was prepared on the basis of questions students wanted answered. Some matters remain unanswered because of legal proceedings. Panellists have a set time to respond. Each member of the audience will then have one minute to put further questions. Andrew Williams will also put questions sent by email.

16:15

Registrar Ken Sloan speaks. The argument runs that protest is part of the university and has been organized collaboratively and the vast majority of protests at Warwick are peaceful. The dynamics have changed national and this has appeared at Warwick e.g. general occupations. The December 2014 protests were allegedly new because of outsiders being involved. Claims are made about the behavior of protestors then, which are met by laughs from some of the audience. The University’s place is not to approve or condemn the actions of the police. This is different for University security staff. No complaint about University staff have been received, it is claimed.

Freedom of expression, the gist of the argument runs, is limited by the requirement not to cause distress to members of the campus community.

The novelty of the protests in 2014 revealed the inadequacies of pre-existing communication processes within University staff, but the University did not misrepresent police actions (laughs). Procedures have been updated.

The occupation cost the University £31,000 – this justified the 8 day injunction. There is a list of people affected by the occupation.

A threat to reinvoke the injunction in future if there is continued disruption. A call for dialogue on protest.

16:25

The Students Union rep speaks. Also claims the protests were novel and SU was somewhat unprepared. The SU condemned the police response as disproportionate, but called for all facts to be determined. There has been a move to foster dialogue and provide advice for students.

A note that Senate House now is the postgraduate hub and it was PGs disrupted, not management. PGs were alienated. Future protests should be directed to management in University House (on the edge of campus).

Claims:
1) need for a direct dialogue between Uni management and the SU. Management seem distant and corporate.
2) A code of conduct for security, but also a code for protests (!)
3) We must ensure events of December 2014 not repeated. Debate must be fostered.

16:30

Clare Bell, Chief Supt of Coventry Police. Discusses what she won’t cover as sub judice.

Key points:
1) Police attended not to police protest but re a specific criminal allegation. Police were not aware there was a protest on 3 December. They did police the 4 December protest.
2) Bothered that there are concerns about police activity.
3) Claim to operate a balancing act in which some may not be satisfied.

Police have debriefed what happened and will learn. Police should be held accountable collectively and individually.

No officers have been sanctioned but a Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry is ongoing. No officers have been suspended.

Re tasers and CS spray. CS spray is carried by everyone. It is not pepper spray and a national approved product(!). Some members of each team carry tasers, also nationally approved.

Supports use of protest liaison officers which worked well, it is claimed, on 4 December.

Regarding police on campus – we have a local safety officer. It is a daily matter. Time is up.

16:35

Warwick for Freed Education speak. They set out the facts of what happened. This is sub judice so cannot be reported at the request of the Centre of Human Rights.

Protesters prefer to picket Senate House because University House is isolated and highly securitized. Rootes Building was occupied to apply effective economic pressure. Free Education is a global movement and so attracts comrades from other universities.

We are a peaceful organization. We are worried of the pressure put on students by University and the police who regard us as domestic extremists, both here and elsewhere (e.g. Sussex).

The University is acting in an absolutist and authoritarian manner and ignoring the democratic will of students. Disobedience is the last resort when we cannot be heard.

Kettling, assault, arrest, disciplinary procedures, the use of plain clothes security, have become normal on campus.

WHat have we learnt at Uni? What police brutality is like, what CS spray smells like, and why it is so important to defend free speech and free ed.

16:45

The Dep Registrar and Head of Security are now speaking in tandem. The information is quite procedural, about contract staff and training. Head of Security called police. This is standard procedure where claim of criminality on campus. There is a discussion of security regulation, which are very much part of the UK legal landscape.

Citation of Reg.29 of the Uni Regs on free speech. Unfortunately protests are not always pre-announced and do not follow procedure. Protocol on protest a good idea.

Confirmation that peaceful protest is a right and conducted in accordance with Reg.29. Problem is unplanned protest.

Emphasis that University has right to carry out functions without disruption, by law. It is right that Uni receives formal advanced notice. Without this it becomes extremely challenging.

16:55

The VC Nigel Thrift is speaking. He claims campus is lively. Long history of peaceful protest, but freedom of expression does not extend to a right to disrupt, threaten, or damage – no one would think it would.

Tacks heavily to the view that those present are just one, minority group. Claims there are many means of dialogue with the University. This is a fact, it is alleged. Somewhat relies on the role of students on committees at faculty and other levels. Sir Nigel refers to his suppers he holds with students(!)

Some student demands are impossible to comply with. We have no influence over national policy.

People here make a living, why should they be disrupted…

Again takes the governors role of the burden of satisfying everyone.

Warwick is a living community made up of many viewpoints.

17:05

Matters are opened to the floor to put questions.

Q1: I am paying £9,000 a year to the university. I am happy to pay for the cost of protest.

Q2: History Fac member: students worried about attacks on students. What of the duty of care to students? Warwick is famous for wrong reasons.

Q3: Is occupation banned indefinitely? What do you mean that you hope injunction will not be invoked?

A1: Re money, we simply don’t agree and students aren’t only stakeholders concerned about how Uni spends money.

A3: Re occupation protest will be dealt with on case by case basis. Protest facilitation cannot be at any cost.

A2: Free Ed allege that duty of care was not upheld. SU not sure Uni upheld duty of care. Nigel Thrift in retrospect certain things that we might have done differently but cannot change the past. Dep Registrar refers to student support services (a bit like the Knights Hospitaler, patching up those they maimed).

17:15

Q4: Has CS gas been used against you? I am from Turkey and have been subjected to cs spray – it is a form of torture. But I have never been subjected to cs spray on my own campus in Turkey – academics protected us from the police. Is it is possible to have a regulation preventing police intervention and in particular banning cs spray.

Q5: English fac member. We are fostering next generation. Our job is to protect our students and we failed. Will you join me in apologizing for failing to protect them.

A4: Dep Registrar declines to recommend banning cs spray. Clare Bell – every police officer carries certain protection equipment. We are trained in it. We must justify use of it. Purpose of IPCC investigation. SU – no mandate to say police off campus. No desire for police on campus for protest, but yes if fascists on campus. Ken Sloan – sticks to facts of what happened and how it is not to be discussed. Free education – solidarity with lady from Turkey. We received call from Amnesty International concerned about what happened and the risk of death by application of what is a flammable liquid. Call on Nigel Thrift to apologise for threatening life.

A5: Free Ed – we have national clout and we do matter. Many family members are police members – I do not hate the police. But they are structurally oppressive and they favour some groups over others.

17:35

Q6: call for Nigel Thrift to apologise at a Warwick Free Ed supper.

Q7: call for code of conduct.

A6: No comment.

A7: Dep Registrar states we are happy to continue working out a code of conduct. University has its own right to occupy and use this land without disruption. Nigel Thrift claims peaceful protest is assembly without intimidation. Free education is viable and arguable, but arguments otherwise can be made. Free Education is a corrosive form of politics because you believe you are right.

Free education – disruption is a legitimate form of action for the disempowered. But our aim is not to disrupt education but to challenge neoliberal dogma.

Q8: Applied linguistics fac: can both sides review the recordings and consider themselves, Free Ed, how have you closed down education? Nigel Thrift, how can you be happy with your patronizing responses?

Q9: to stop plain clothes security staff taking pictures, even at a protest earlier.

Q10: from email: was the use of cs spray unusual in this instance.

17:49

A10: Clare Bell – I cannot answer that question. We can get those statistics.

A8: Free Ed – videos difficult viewing as irrationality was understandable in those difficult circumstances. We did not believe police were here for us. Uni denied this. Ken Sloan – look at the videos – no acknowledgment of how scary the protest appeared to third parties.

A9: SU. We have raised recording and are against.

Nigel Thrift – I am not patronizing. Some of these situations are “extremely dynamic” especially when outsiders are involved (groans for crowd).

Q11: Chemistry fac. Students are our biggest stakeholder. We need the right new VC. The Times Higher advert does not mention students and does not mention staff. This is wrong.

Q12: Termly question time with the VC?

Q13: BME communities are made to feel unsafe by police on campus. Injunction must be lifted to show respect of student right to protest.

Hd of Security – future protesters need to sit down with me and have meaningful dialogue to keep people safe. Dep Registrar welcomes dialogue and planning for safety reasons. Clare Bell – protest liaison officers was a positive step. I will not accept we have no relationship with BME communities and I won’t accept people being afraid of the police. “Because you are racist” is shouted out. I will speak with you and try and improve things.

Nigel Thrift. If we can have dialogue and not a shouting match I could see a question time being possible. SU supports this.

Ken Sloan: takes the point regarding VC appointment advert, but refers people to full conditions of employment. SU is member of appointments committee. It looks like an advert for Tesco’s CEO, the response comes back. Injunction – our intention is to sustain the injunction but not to use it.

Free Education: on dialogue, this had to be forced on you Nigel Thrift. Please:
1) retract biased statement;
2) apologise for it;
3) condemn police violence against your students.

Further demands:
1) cops of campus, works in Brazil, Turkey and elsewhere;
2) lift injunction.

18:10

James Harrison of the Centre for Human Rights closes. There are embryonic ideas that can be built on. Some concrete ideas to work out. We will write up a report and ask panelists to contribute concrete proposals.

The meeting ends in a call for immediate protest and occupation, and students speed out to the concourse to pursue this action. Follow the occupation on the WFFE twitter feed.

END

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