No development on calls for an independent enquiry a year after the crackdown against student protest outside the Exhibition and Conference Centre.
The call for an independent enquiry came as a response to alleged interference of police and its Forward Monitoring Team (FIT), injuries, an arrest and widespread intimidations during and after the protests.
One student activist, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated: “UWE is ready to suppress and endanger student voices critical of its ties with the military, while hosting and legitimising profiteers of the arms trade. Those protests were the only means available to bring this event and our arguments to attention.”
A campaign titled #reviewUWE was set up in April 2014 by student activists calling for an independent enquiry into the events of the protest against the Defence Procurement Research Technology Exportability (DPRTE) event, which took place outside the ECC building in November 2013.
A second year student, who chose to remain anonymous, claimed that the Police FIT followed student activists after the protest. “We were filmed and the police went into campus and inside Core 24 [the cafeteria]. They also filmed students on private University property which were uninvolved in the protest at all. They carried on even when I asked them to stop, as I felt intimidated.”
Allegedly, SU president Charlie Roper stated to three student activists post-protest that the “Vice Chancellor (VC) will commission a full review, including the activists’ view.” However, on-scene reports at the time indicate VC Steve West was seen threatening students with arrests.
Charlie Roper declined to comment, stating that “the trustees do not intend to have any further discourse on the matter.”
Student activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “We were blocking the access of the delegates and the VC approached me and another protester and ordered us to get out of the way.
He was being physically imposing and he said he’d go and get police officers; we left before they could come back.”
Keith Hicks, UWE’s Head of Marketing and Communications, stated in October 2014 that “the activists’ call for an independent enquiry last November was not supported at the time.”
Two open letters were sent by the campaigning group Better Together: one to UWE’s Vice-Chancellor Steve West on 12 March 2014, 7 months before Hick’s statement, and another to the Board of Governors on 8 April 2014.
The Clerk of UWE’s Board of Governors confirmed on 14 April 2014 that the second one was “provided in full to the members of the Board of Governors.” To date, it has been the only acknowledgement by UWE’s management and/or UWESU of the #reviewUWE movement- despite the backing of the UWE branch of the University and College Union (UCU).
Hicks stated on a video release to Bristol Life, published on 8 Apr 2014: “We are happy to hear from any students who feel they have been mistreated. If the Students’ Union raised this issue, we would do something about it.”
UWESU met up with two student activists a day after the protest in November, but no strong immediate action was taken by UWESU.
UWESU stated last month, “We asked the activists for their accounts of what happened after the protest that we could put a case to the university but no one got back to us.”
The university’s decision in October 2014 to host a talk by the CEO of QinetiQ – describing itself as “experts in defence, aerospace and security” after a lack of action following last years’ events has resulted in further protests by students, activist groups and the public.
By Ben Gerdziunas