UWE allowed police and one intelligence-gathering ‘FIT’ team to intimidate, harass and gather video evidence on non-protesting students at the very heart of the University

Press release
For immediate release: 20 November 2013

UWE allowed police and one intelligence-gathering ‘FIT’ team to intimidate, harass and gather video evidence on non-protesting students at the very heart of the University

Email contact (please read our blog first and make specific points and requests): uwe [dot] better [dot] together [at] gmail [dot] com

UWE allowed police and one Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) into inside Core24, a university-run cafe, next to the library, at the very heart of the university’s main campus at Frenchay. Police interfered with the group who had been protesting as they were debriefing while having lunch, far away from the protest site. They were present in the cafe space throughout their lunch, a presence that the group considers as outrageous criminalisation and experienced as intimidating. FIT was seen shooting video inside Core24, who was then also filled with many people, including many UWE students and staff who had not been protesting, and who mostly seemed unaware that a military business fair was happening on campus.  After the group of protesters dispersed, one FIT team followed and harassed a small group of UWE student activists as they were trying to leave campus.

After peacefully protesting throughout the morning at the North Gate, the East Gate and in front of the Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) of the University’s main campus at Frenchay, protesters (including many current and former UWE students) gathered around lunch time in the area known as ‘Core24’, next to the library of UWE’s main campus at Frenchay.

While having lunch they discussed the events of the morning and addressed as a group one of UWESU’s elected officers.Even though both the University newspaper (http://www.westerneye.net/news/2013/11/students-stage-impeccable-protest/) and the police (http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Protest-arms-fair-conference-UWE-Bristol/story-20104800-detail/story.html^1) reported that protesters were peaceful, UWE allowed the police far away from the ECC and inside the very heart of the university. Police came to ask them to ‘discuss’ several times, interfering with the ongoing discussion and being present in the space at all times. One Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) was seen recording video footage of protesters and Core24, where many students and staff (most of whom seem not to even be aware that a military business event was taking place on campus) were having lunch.

Wikipedia describes FIT teams as follows: “Forward Intelligence Teams (FITs) are two or more police officers who are deployed by UK police forces to gather intelligence on the ground[1] and in some circumstances, to disrupt activists and deter anti-social behaviour”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forward_Intelligence_Team).

One group of UWE students was then followed by the same FIT team. Those police constantly obstructed and questioned them whle recording videos as they were trying to leave Frenchay.  One UWE student who was part of the group followed by this FIT team and who is currently resting texted the following after it happened:  “FIT teams in core 24 as we were leaving filmed us and then followed us off campus, continually stopping us to question us. Massively intimidating and I felt really harassed”.

Despite some positive outcomes, including a massive traffic blockade caused by the police and UWE security, and a peaceful incursion into the military business fair, our protest was systematically silenced, some protesters (most of whom were current or former UWE students) were injured, concerns about the physical integrity of UWE students were ignored by both UWE and UWESU.  UWE students who staged this peaceful protest are appalled and overwhelmed by the  dimensions that this is taking. We have been collecting much evidence and collaborated with independent legal observers throughout the process. We intend to hold UWE, UWESU and the police accountable for their actions on campus today but we are exhausted and we need help!

We will probably be unable to provide any further updates in the near future. However, much more has to and will be said about what happened on campus today. We will try to provide updates as soon as possible. More comprehensive and evidenced reports about today will be reported on our blog (https://network23.org/uwe-struggles/). We are calling on individuals and organisations to support us to hold everyone accountable for what happened today on campus.  In the meantime, we encourage you to simply start by reading this blog, spread information about it, and then consider taking active forms of solidarity (see below for suggestions).

Notes:

^1 We complained to the Bristol Post that they misreported this event, not least because they described it as an ‘arms fair’ (it is a military business fair) and because they didn’t pay any attention to the argument collectively agreed by protesting UWE students (https://network23.org/uwe-struggles/2013/11/19/uwe-students-to-peacefully-disarm-military-business-fair-on-campus-through-party/). Journalists from the Bristol Post didn’t come on site and one ITV crew reported being sent back by UWE security on 19 November on grounds that UWE is private land. To our knowledge, the only journalists who were present were the University student newspaper, the WesternEye (http://www.westerneye.net), even though they also reported this as an ‘arms fair’ (http://www.westerneye.net/news/2013/11/uwe-hosts-arms-fair/).

How you can already support

  • Please help us to push this to the outside world as we currently have very limited capacity to do press work
  • You may send personal messages of solidarity to the protester who was arrested and UWE students who were/felt intimidated and/or harassed by FIT teams today by email. Please include ‘personal message of solidarity’ in the subject of your email.
  • You may send public messages of solidarity (most of whom were UWE students) and complaint to. Please include ‘public message of solidarity/complaint’ in the subject of your email.
  • You may send letters to complain about democracy at UWE to whoever you may see fit. Besides UWE’s VC and UWESU, we encourage you to contact MPs and influential people in Bristol committed to democratic values and with an understanding of the place of universities in democracy. Make sure to cc us to those emails.
  • We welcome offers of support from any individuals and groups to help us deal with the huge amount of work ahead of us. Please read our blog and twitter before making suggestions and email us with specific offers
  • We are particularly interested to build solidarity at university-level by working with UWE staff. We can set processes in place for organising confidentially if needed or preferred. Again, just email.
  • More comprehensive and detailed updates will be published on our blog (https://network23.org/uwe-struggles/) and twitter (https://twitter.com/uwestruggles)
  • If you haven’t already, please consider signing our petition (even though it now needs to be updated): https://www.change.org/petitions/calling-the-university-of-the-west-of-england-uwe-bristol-not-to-invest-itself-into-promote-support-or-enable-profit-making-from-of-through-wars-military-uses-of-research-military-networks-and-violent-approaches-towards-conflicts