Open letter to UWE Governors requesting independent review of repression against 20 November 2013 ‘UWE arms fair’ protests

2 April 2014

Dear Gillian Camm, Chris Booy, Iain Gray, Dr Martin Hagen, John Laycock, Sandra Forbes, Sonia Mills, Simon Moore, David Lamb, Jocelyn McNulty, Alex Gilkison, Professor Jane Harrington, Professor Graham Upton, Professor John Craven, Graham van der Lely, Charlie Roper, Steve West,

Dear UWE Governors,

Dear UWE Board of Governors,

On 12 March 2014, students of the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) sent an open letter to Steve West [0], UWE’s Vice-Chancellor, demanding that UWE funds, impulses and facilitates a transparent, comprehensive and independent review of the university’s involvement with the ‘UWE arms fair’ (officially known as DPRTE), as well as the ongoing systematic repression of – including UWE’s carelessness regarding protesters’ health and safety as well as its silencing, intimidation and possible direct involvement in the criminalisation of – peaceful protests at UWE’s Frenchay campus on 20 November 2013. The Vice-Chancellor ignored our letter and our subsequent reminders.

We now call UWE governors to support us and we introduce, outline and further justify the same demand for a transparent, comprehensive and independent review to the UWE Board of Governors. In parallel, we will keep campaigning to hold everyone accountable for the repression and to denounce, amongst other things, UWE’s collusion with the military. The next major milestone of this campaign will be a national day of action at UWE Bristol on 14 April 2014 with support from student groups involved with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) across the country, explicitly focused on the repression within our university, [1] and backing UWE students’ demand for this independent review.

1. DPRTE: an obscene military business and arms fair

In 2012 and 2013, the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) made the backstage decision to rent out the university’s Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) to the first two editions of DPRTE [2]: Defence Procurement Research Technology Exportability. DPRTE is a military business and arms fair enabling the UK’s involvement in wars, as well as the highly profitable and controversial business of death. UK military industries are amongst the main proponents [3] and beneficiaries [4] of this business. Recently, such UK companies have once again made the headlines for selling products and services to dictatorships widely known for repressing and torturing their own populations [5,6,7,8]. Such businesses were exhibiting, networking, coordinating, making partnerships and deals, as well as securing further profits in our university on 20 November 2013 as part of what has come to be known as the ‘UWE arms fair’.

DPRTE is key to the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) procurement strategy. It was launched in 2012, along the MoD’s 2012 Equipment Plan [9]. UWE’s ECC, where DPRTE 2012 and 2013 took place, is right next to the MoD’s national procurement centre and the ‘Bristol Business Park’ [10], featuring the highest concentration of military businesses in the South West. DPRTE has been widely promoted by the MoD and the military community as ‘the UK’s leading defence event’ for businesses ‘to gain [their] share of £160 Bn from the MoD’s 10 Year Equipment Plan’ including £11.4 Bn on weapons, £18.5 Bn on combat air, and £35.8 Bn on submarines and nuclear weapons of mass destruction [11]. Companies such as BAE Systems (third largest arms dealer in the world [12]), Babcock (nuclear specialists, involved with the UK submarines carrying ‘Trident’ ballistic nuclear missiles [13]) and ST Kinetics [14] (Singapore-based weapons and ammunition manufacturer, supplier of the MoD [15]) were exhibiting at UWE Bristol as part of DPRTE 2013.

DPRTE2013_exhibitor
DPRTE exhibitor at UWE Bristol on 20 November 2013

The UK is amongst the biggest exporters of arms in the world [16] and UK companies have made huge profits through the arms trade, often selling to countries officially listed [17] for human rights abuses [18,19]. In July 2013, the Parliament’s Committee on Arms Export Control released a report [20] demonstrating that UK businesses have sold over £12 Bn in arms to ‘the world’s worst dictatorships and human rights abusers’ [21]. A recent example of such deals were the delivery of chemicals ‘that could have been used to make chemical weapons’ to Syria [22]. Such businesses were also exhibiting at UWE Bristol in November 2013. Indeed, DPRTE 2013 exhibitors included Chemring, a British company notorious for supplying tear gas used to repress protesters in the Arab Spring [23] and BAE Systems that recently sold ‘Typhoon’ jets to Bahrain [24].

By renting out the ECC to DPRTE 2013, UWE Bristol also enabled foreign arms dealers such as Raytheon, a US company manufacturing missiles [25,26] as well as crowd-control ‘pain guns’ [27], cluster bombs found in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, and software for managing protests and popular uprisings by tracking activists through their internet communications [28]. In other words, not only does DPRTE explicitly aim at facilitating British exportations (as the UK Trade and Investment [29] [UKTI] stated from DPRTE 2013: ‘UKTI can help you export, just like Lye Cross Farm cheese’ [30]) but the MoD also invites its foreign suppliers to coordinate, in turn making it a platform for facilitating the global military and arms industry.

A comprehensive review should include all the decisions that were made by UWE to support this event: what was decided, when, by who, how and why. In other words, the review should cover not only the decisions to rent out the ECC to DPRTE in 2012 and 2013, but also all related decisions including the involvement of UWE security, the recruitment of additional private security for the day, the decision of UWE VC to get involved in person against the protests, the presence and actions of UWE’s Head of Security, etc.

2. Student protests, and UWE’s actions against the protest and protesters

Unaware of DPRTE until early November 2013, a group of UWE students were informed through anti-arms campaigners that this military business and arms fair was to take place, once again, within our university. Together with other citizens, including activists from Bristol Against the Arms Trade (BAAT), UWE students improvised a last minute campaign culminating with protests at UWE’s Frenchay campus on 19 and 20 November 2013. The only media that observed those protests reported that “students stage[d] ‘impeccable’ protest” [8] and that “Most student observations of the day’s events favoured the humble efforts of the protestors to hold both the ‘arms’ industry and UWE to account for it actions” [31].

IMG_1114
Student banner at protests of ‘UWE arms fair’ on 20 November 2013

What still has not been reported, however, is the widespread hostility, threats and attacks from DPRTE participants, UWE security, UWE staff including top management, and the police, on protesters, including many UWE students, sometimes extending to harassment, as well as threatened and actual assaults.
UWE students retrospectively learnt that UWE had hired extra private security for the day and such private security were repeatedly witnessed at the North Gate, prioritising the traffic of careless or threatening DPRTE delegates and exhibitors at the detriment of the safety of protesters, including many current and former UWE students. Moreover, PC Mark Brain, UWE’s ‘community police officer’ also did nothing to protect members of the public including many UWE students from such drivers. Instead, he was witnessed attempting to grab protesters’ banners and pushing protesters around. He then picked on the smallest protester and arrested her claiming assault, a charge that was dropped before the protester left the police station.

As a result of such carelessness and of drivers’ irresponsible behaviour, one UWE student had her foot run over. One other protester was assaulted by a DPRTE participant who caused him a bleeding injury. Steve West [UWE’s Vice-Chancellor], Keith Hicks [UWE’s Director of Marketing & Communications], John Rushforth [UWE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor], Paul Gough [UWE’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic)] and Lucy Wicksteed [UWE’s Head of Executive Support and Project Co-ordinator for the VC] were informed about, and decided to ignore, urgent concerns about the health and safety, as well as the democratic rights of protesters, raised by UWE students [32].

Moreover, even though UWE VC claimed that ‘The conference is an event that is organised by a third party facilitated by the ECC. It is not a University conference’[33], Steve West was seen in person at the protest site, near the ECC, acting against the protests by intimidating protesters with arrest, and then chasing up policemen to carry out his threats. Moreover, Annette Hennessy, UWE’s Head of Security, was seen liaising with the police both on 19 and 20 November, and taking pictures of protesters without their consent and without justification on 20 November.

The extent of the collaboration between UWE and the police remains unknown and will need to be determined by the independent review. However, it is known is that UWE allowed unprecedented numbers of police on campus. It is also known that UWE allowed the police to follow protesters as, and after, the protests were dispersing, as they were walking towards, and then gathering within, a university cafe at the heart of the university, 50 meters away from UWE’s main library. Police interfered with the group as we were debriefing our eventful morning while having lunch, far away from the protest site, more than 500 meters away from any past protests and long after all protests had ceased. Police were present in the cafe space throughout their lunch, a presence that the group considered as outrageous criminalisation and intimidation. UWE also allowed police and one intelligence-gathering police team to gather video evidence on people who had been protesting earlier, as well as many other students and staff who were in the cafe and who seemed completely unaware of what was going on. The intelligence-gathering team then subsequently followed a small group of students and harassed them as they were trying to leave the Frenchay campus [34]. It is also known that, to this date, UWE has still not commented on the police’s actions, let alone denounced them. The police itself was reported stating that the protests were peaceful.

A comprehensive review should include a detailed investigation of the collaboration between UWE and the police, particularly the possible actions UWE took to criminalise, or caused the criminalisation of, UWE students. In particular, it should examine what UWE requested from the police, who made the requests, when, how and why. It should also include what evidence was gathered by Annette Hennessy and for what reasons, whether that or any other evidence collected by UWE staff was shared with the police and, conversely, whether the police shared any data with UWE.

3. UWE’s irresponsible decision and top management’s hypocrisy

On 17 October 2012, UWE’s Vice-Chancellor wrote an opinion piece for the Times Higher Education portraying himself as a “public intellectual” [35]. He suggested that Vice-Chancellors “are wary of ‘politicising’ [their] institutions by taking a strong stance on highly complex and controversial issues ” and claimed to be committed to “engage with difficult, real-world issues”. He further called “vice-chancellors to become more of an independent force for positive social change. We owe it to students, society and future generations to take this [public intellectual] role on”.

One month later, the day of the 2013 ‘UWE arms fair’, in response to the protests, Steve West was quoted in the Bristol Post claiming that “The University takes an entirely responsible approach in its decisions regarding conference bookings at the ECC and in developing links with partners” [36] without giving any argument as to how or why it could be responsible for UWE to provide facilities, to legitimise this event, to facilitate its security (including by contributing to the repression of protests), etc. or to establish partnerships with military and arms industries. In contrast, UWE students argued that it was not only irresponsible to host this obscene event, but particularly inadmissible that it had been allowed to take place on land of an institution that, as UWE VC repeated recently, should be “a seat of learning” [39]. Moreover, it contradicts the university’s claimed commitment to social justice and sustainability [37].

A comprehensive review should examine UWE’s decision to host this military business and arms fair in itself, as well as to commit to partnerships with military organisations and businesses, but also consider them in the context of UWE’s stated ethical commitments, as well as the ethical claims of its top managers.

4. The purpose of universities and UWE’s repression of debate

Since such institutions were established for the first time about one thousand years ago in Europe, academic freedom has been at the core of universities’ definition. Initially allowed to freely govern themselves provided they taught neither atheism nor heresy, intellectual pluralism vastly broadened beyond those early boundaries. Nowadays, universities are recognised as the institutionalised space within contemporary nominally democratic societies for advancing critical reflection and inquiry, debate, and have sometimes been a crucial site of progressive social change [40]. In the UK, the 1963 Robins Report on universities asserted that four main objectives for such institutions, two of them being (a) “the promotion of the general powers of the mind so as to produce not mere specialists but rather cultivated men and women” and (b) “to transmit a common culture and common standards of citizenship”.

UWE managers also proclaimed in the media that UWE is fundamentally committed democracy and democratic rights. For example, besides Steve West’s above-mentioned recent opinion piece in the Times Higher Education [35], this is what John Rushforth, UWE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, told the Guardian: “”What we’re here to do is encourage people to become citizens and if citizens in a democratic society can’t protest, then there’s something that’s gone wrong” [41]. However, the actions of UWE’s top management prior to, during and since the last UWE arms fair question the sincerity of those claims, as well as UWE’s actual support for democracy.

To this date, UWE has continually ensured that university staff and students do not get any information about this event, and about the related protests. When UWE students staged protests to uncover UWE management’s backstage decision, to raise awareness about this event and to open a debate about the numerous issues that it raised, they were met with intimidation, repression and criminalisation. In one instance, UWE VC even personally intimidated protesters, including UWE students, who were trying to argue why this military business event is irresponsible, a move that symbolises the university’s attempt to stifle the very possibility of debate.

UWE also systematically attempted to mislead the public and to deligitimise protesters. When the university’s newspaper published an article entitled “UWE HOSTS ‘ARMS FAIR’” triggered by UWE students’ planned protest on 13 November 2013, one week before the event, Keith Hicks, UWE’s head of Marketing and Communications, commented: “It is our [UWE’s] policy not to support arms fairs. This is not an arms fair. This is a conference that promotes project management of large procurement projects and supply chain management. The University is also not a sponsor of the conference or involved besides the rental of the space. We would not expect protest at this type of conference and clearly we would hope any protest would be responsible” [42]. Steve West made nearly the same statement to the Bristol Post [43] but he then also conflated “the military and emergency services”, suggesting that “disaster relief work requires us [UWE] to work with the MOD and procurement services” even though no past communication of DPRTE 2013 related to ‘relief work’ and not a single relief organisation was exhibiting at DPRTE 2013.

To this date, still very few students and staff know that the DPRTE military business and arms fair took place on campus twice and that it was protested. Even fewer know that the safety of protesters was threatened, that UWE and UWESU did nothing to address this situation even though they were informed, that protesters were criminalised, etc. A comprehensive review should cover UWE’s failings to address its democratic responsibilities and claims through its communications and silences, as well as its actions and inactions before, during and after the event. The review should also include the policing of protests, taking into account that most of it took place on university (private) land.

5. Collusion of UWE with business and military worlds

UWE students argued that the University’s decision to host this military business fair was not merely obscene; most importantly, it highlights UWE’s increasing collusion with business and military institutions. UWE students argue that the hosting of this military business and arms fair in 2012 and 2013, and their approval of the tripling of tuition fees in 2010, highlight UWE management’s strategy of “prioritising business of any kind, even at the detriment of the physical integrity and the freedom of expression of a handful of students who did their utmost best to air very important points, despite systematic silencing, hostility and even sometimes aggression” [44].

Students also denounced UWE’s strategy of cutting courses, staff and quality of education while furthering a business agenda through large infrastructures which are mostly useless to students and education, such as the planned 20,000 seat ‘UWE stadium’ or the conference centre, where DPRTE 2013 took place.

A comprehensive review should investigate the university’s strategy and entrenched investments with business and military worlds, determine how those influenced the decision to host and support the obscene DPRTE in 2012 and 2013, the repression of related protest and debate to the extent of intimidating students, as well as being careless about protesters’ health and safety. It should also address the extent to which this strategy, and these investments with business and military worlds undermine and compromise the university’s ability to fulfil its democratic role.

6. Attitude of UWE Students’ Union and The Western Eye

UWE Students’ Union (UWESU) broke commitments that had been negotiated with student activists to provide support for the protest, incidentally also breaking more general stated commitments by the Students’ Union (SU) to increase participation and support its members.

Moreover, at midday, UWESU ignored an urgent request from campaigning UWE students to meet the five presidents in person to discuss breaches to our health and safety as well as to our democratic rights. This request was made in person to Hannah Khan, VP Societies and Communication, in front of a large group, after giving her a background of what had happened. It was also emailed to all UWESU presidents. Since then, UWESU has systematically obstructed attempts to hold UWE and UWESU accountable for their actions and inaction on, and since 20 November.

Moreover, the day of the ‘UWE arms fair’, the student newspaper stated: “The Western Eye will be publishing a full review of the day’s events, from both inside and outside the ECC, later this week”. However, it has failed to do so, therefore also contributing to silence student activists. The WesternEye also stifled student activists’ reasons for protesting, narrowing their action into an ‘arms fair’ protest and framing all their articles within a silly definitional debate about whether DPRTE was an arms fair. A comprehensive review should investigate UWESU’s and the WesternEye’s responsibilities and failings.

7. A comprehensive, transparent and independent review

A comprehensive review should include, and systematically follow through, the above-mentioned areas for investigation as well as those other highlighted in the letter sent to UWE VC on 12 March 2014. It should also review relevant best practice and take inputs from ‘experts’, including UWE students involved in DPRTE protests, to support citizenship, enrich democracy and foster progressive social change. Finally, it should make recommendations based on a comparison between best practice, and its investigation into UWE.

A transparent review should:

  • Be widely publicised both within and beyond UWE, and provide clear procedures for people to get involved and provide input,
  • Protect sensitive or confidential data as well as the identity of witnesses,
  • Publicise the process for performing the review,
  • Widely publicise the outcomes of the review.

Given UWE’s actions on the day and subsequently, particularly the direct involvement of UWE VC and UWE’s Head of Security against the protests, as well as UWE’s contempt for protesters’ health and safety and democratic rights, students have no trust in UWE and call for this review to be fully independent from UWE.

Given UWESU’s actions on the day, in particular the fact that UWESU presidents ignored an urgent request to meet in order to discuss the safeguarding of protesters’ security and democratic rights, as well as UWESU’s subsequent obstruction of efforts to hold UWE and UWESU accountable for their actions on 20 November 2013, participating students have no trust in UWESU and call for this review to be fully independent from UWESU.

The independence of the review would then be guaranteed by a panel of experts from across a wide and adequate range of disciplines, selected from within and outside UWE, for their demonstrable commitment to:

  • the importance of intellectual pluralism within universities,
  • the role of universities in advancing progressive social change throughout history,
  • the democratic role of universities within contemporary societies.

We look forward to reading a clear and prompt answer to this demand for a transparent, comprehensive and independent review at your earliest opportunity.

Yours sincerely,
UWE students

[Editorial note: minor edits for clarity, to correct typos and to remove one repetition were made on 22 April 2014]

Footnotes

[0] Better Together (12 March 2014) Open letter to UWE VC requesting independent review of 20 November 2013 protests against military business and arms fair at UWE, https://network23.org/better-together/2014/03/12/open-letter-to-uwe-vc-requesting-independent-review-of-20-november-2013-protests-against-uwe-military-business-and-arms-fair/

[1] CAAT Universities Network (2014) Events, http://universities.caat.org.uk/events/

[2] Official website of DPRTE: http://www.dprte.co.uk

[3] The Guardian (6 November 2012) David Cameron: UK arms sales to Gulf countries ‘legitimate’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/nov/05/david-cameron-arms-sales-gulf

[4] Wikipedia, World’s largest arms exporters, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arms_industry#World.27s_largest_arms_exporters

[5] The Huffington Post (17 July 2013) UK Sells £12bn Worth Of Arms To World’s Worst Dictatorships And Human Rights Abusers, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/07/17/uk-sells-arms-to-worlds-w_n_3608760.html

[6] The Huffington Post (28 February 2014) Why Is the UK Facilitating Oppression in Bahrain? http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/amelia-amin/bahrain-oppression_b_4875007.html

[7] RT (22 November 2013) Trading in repression: Activists slam ‘whitewash’ probe into UK-Gulf arms deals, http://rt.com/news/uk-trade-saudi-bahrain-142/

[8] Channel 4 (17 July 2013) UK approves arms sales to human rights abusers, http://www.channel4.com/news/arms-exports-human-rights-uk-12bn-mps

[9] UK’s Ministry of Defence (31 January 2013) The defence equipment plan 2012, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-defence-equipment-plan-2012

[10] Bristol Business Park (retrieved 27 March 2014) Map of the Bristol Business Park, http://www.bristolandengland.co.uk/masterplan.html

[11] DSEI intelligence brief (retrieved 27 March 2014) Learn how to gain your share of £160 Bn from the MOD’s 10 Year Equipment Plan, http://mrpaulelliott.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/dcb-dsei-8pp.pdf

[12] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (retrieved 27 March 2014) The SIPRI Top 100 arms-producing and military services companies in the world excluding China, 2012, http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/production/Top100

[13] BBC News (22 May 2012), Trident contracts worth £350m unveiled by MoD, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18155835

[14] Defense News (18 May 2012) Singapore Gains Toehold in World Arms Industry, http://www.defensenews.com/article/20120318/DEFREG03/303180003/Singapore-Gains-Toehold-World-Arms-Industry

[15] Marontech communications (21 June 2011) ST Kinetics Completes Delivery Of Warthog to UK Ministry Of Defence, http://www.marontech.co.uk/st-kinetics-completes-delivery-of-warthog-to-uk-ministry-of-defence

[16] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2014) Arms transfers Database, http://armstrade.sipri.org/armstrade/page/toplist.php

[17] Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2014) Human rights in Countries of Concern, http://www.hrdreport.fco.gov.uk/human-rights-in-countries-of-concern/

[18] The Guardian (13 July 2012) UK arms exports: which countries do British firms sell to, and who buys what? http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/interactive/2012/jul/13/defence-military-uk-arms-exports-middle-east-interactive

[19] Campaign Against Arms Trade (2014) UK Arms Export Licences, http://www.caat.org.uk/resources/export-licences/

[20] UK Parliament (17 July 2013) Scrutiny of Arms Exports and Arms Control (2013) Report, http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/other-committees/committee-on-arms-export-controls/news/pn-report/

[21] The Huffington Post (17 July 2013) UK Sells £12bn Worth Of Arms To World’s Worst Dictatorships And Human Rights Abusers, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/07/17/uk-sells-arms-to-worlds-w_n_3608760.html

[22] Sky News (17 July 2013) Britain’s Chemical Sales To Syria Revealed, http://news.sky.com/story/1116687/britains-chemical-sales-to-syria-revealed

[23] The Independent (4 December 2011) British-made tear gas was used on Egypt’s protesters, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britishmade-tear-gas-was-used-on-egypts-protesters-6272117.html

[24] The Telegraph (9 August 2013) Britain to sell Typhoon jets to Bahrain, despite human rights record, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/defence/10233673/Britain-to-sell-Typhoon-jets-to-Bahrain-despite-human-rights-record.html

[25] Corporate Research Project (2014) Raytheon: Corporate Rap Sheet, http://www.corp-research.org/raytheon

[26] Bristol Against the Arms Trade (2014) Raytheon, MBDA, http://bristolagainstarmstrade.wordpress.com/map/bristol-companies-with-military-interest/raytheon-mbda/

[27] Abovetopsecret (14 February 2011) Raytheon offers ‘pain gun’ to troubled India, http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread663156/pg1

[28] The Guardian (10 February 2013) Software that tracks people on social media created by defence firm, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/10/software-tracks-social-media-defence

[29] UKTI (2014) About UKTI, http://www.ukti.gov.uk/uktihome/aboutukti.html

[30] @UKTI Twitter (20 November 2013), https://twitter.com/UKTI/status/403145773899997184

[31] The Western Eye (20 November 2013), Students Stage ‘Impeccable’ Protest, http://www.westerneye.net/news/2013/11/students-stage-impeccable-protest/

[32] Better Together (20 November 2013) UWE VC ignores UWE students’ safety concerns and denies request to have a citizens’ inspection (including UWE students) of military business fair; further questions to him, https://network23.org/better-together/2013/11/20/uwe-vc-ignores-uwe-students-safety-concerns-and-denies-request-to-have-a-citizens-inspection-including-uwe-students-of-military-business-fair-further-questions-to-him/

[33] Email from Steve West to UWE students on 20 November 2013 at 1:29pm

[34] Better Together (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, https://network23.org/better-together/2013/11/20/uwe-allowed-a-police-intelligence-gathering-fit-team-to-gather-evidence-and-harass-students-through-video-recording-at-the-core-of-university/

[35] Times Higher Education (17 October 2013) A leader’s role as public intellectual: approach with care, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/a-leaders-role-as-public-intellectual-approach-with-care/2008176.article

[36] Bristol Post (20 November 2013) VIDEO: Protest against ‘arms fair’ conference at UWE Bristol, http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Protest-arms-fair-conference-UWE-Bristol/story-20104800-detail/story.html

[37] UWE Bristol (2013) UWE Bristol Strategy 2020, http://www2.uwe.ac.uk/services/Marketing/about-us/pdf/UWE-Bristol-Strategy-2020.pdf

[38] The Bristol Post (20 November 2013) VIDEO: Protest against ‘arms fair’ conference at UWE Bristol, http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Protest-arms-fair-conference-UWE-Bristol/story-20104800-detail/story.html

[39] The Western Eye (24 January 2014) Steve West comments on Frenchay security breach, http://www.westerneye.net/news/2014/01/steve-west-comments-on-frenchay-security-breach/

[40] Anderson, Robert (1998), The ‘Idea of a University’ today, History and Policy, http://www.historyandpolicy.org/papers/policy-paper-98.html

[41] The Guardian (9 January 2012), Student protesters get evicted by universities, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/jan/09/student-protests-university-evictions

[42] The Western Eye (13 November 2013) UWE HOSTS ‘ARMS FAIR’, http://www.westerneye.net/news/2013/11/uwe-hosts-arms-fair/

[43] The Bristol Post (20 November 2013), VIDEO: Protest against ‘arms fair’ conference at UWE Bristol, http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Protest-arms-fair-conference-UWE-Bristol/story-20104800-detail/story.html

[44] Better Together (20 November 2013), TO UWE STUDENTS: WONDERING WHAT WAS GOING ON ON CAMPUS TODAY? https://network23.org/better-together/2013/11/20/to-uwe-students-wondering-what-was-going-on-on-campus-today/

[Editorial note: minor edits for clarity, to correct typos, and to remove one repetition in section 3. were made on 22 April 2014]

Open letter to UWE VC requesting independent review of 20 November 2013 protests against military business and arms fair at UWE

Dear Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of UWE,

In 2012 and 2013, the first two editions of ‘DPRTE’, a military business and arms fair key to the UK’s business of death, were hosted by UWE in its Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) at UWE’s Frenchay campus. A group of UWE students took part in protests against DPRTE 2013[1].

On 20 November 2013, the Western Eye, the only media that was present onsite and that thus could directly observe the protests, reported that “students stage[d] ‘impeccable’ protest” and that “Most student observations of the day’s events favoured the humble efforts of the protestors to hold both the ‘arms’ industry and UWE to account for it actions” (The WesternEye, 20/11/2013[2]).

However, at the end of the day, UWE students denounced UWE management’s strategy of “prioritising business of any kind, even at the detriment of the physical integrity and the freedom of expression of a handful of students who did their utmost best to air very important points, despite systematic silencing, hostility and even sometimes aggression.”[3]

Since then, it has become clear that protesters’ attempts to raise awareness about this event, and to open a debate about it, were met with considerable hostility, sometimes extending to harassment and violence, and systematic silencing, intimidation, repression and criminalisation. As a result, protesters’ health and safety, freedom of expression and democratic rights to protest were breached following actions, as well as inaction, from DPRTE participants, police, UWE and UWESU.

UWE students who participated in those protests now demand that UWE funds, impulses and facilitates a transparent, comprehensive and independent review to investigate the issues that arose through, and since, the protests against DPRTE on 20 November 2013.

A transparent review should:

  • Be widely publicised both within and beyond UWE, and provide clear procedures for people to get involved and provide input,
  • Protect sensitive or confidential data as well as the identity of witnesses,
  • Publicise the process for performing the review,
  • Widely publicise the outcomes of the review.

A comprehensive review should include investigations into, and make recommendations based on, the following areas:

  • UWE’s decision to rent out the ECC to DPRTE. Indeed, according to UWE students, this decision was not democratic, and contradicts some of the university’s claimed commitments, especially regarding social justice or sustainability.
  • UWE’s duty of care and democratic responsibilities, especially after Steve West [UWE’s Vice-Chancellor], Keith Hicks [UWE’s Director of Marketing & Communications], John Rushforth [UWE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor], Paul Gough [UWE’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic)] and Lucy Wicksteed [UWE’s Head of Executive Support and Project Co-ordinator for the VC] were informed about, and decided to ignore, urgent concerns about health and safety and democratic rights raised by UWE students.
  • The role of UWE security, especially in relation to protesters’ health and safety. Indeed, UWE security facilitated traffic of drivers towards DPRTE at the detriment of the health and safety of protesters. More specifically, UWE security encouraged drivers to cross the gates near protesters even when or after they displayed careless or threatening driving towards protesters.
  • The direct involvement of UWE staff against the protests. Indeed, besides UWE security, Steve West, UWE VC was seen near the ECC intimidating protesters, including UWE students. Moreover, Annette Hennessy, UWE’s Head of Security, was seen taking pictures of protesters without their consent and without justification.
  • The policing of protests against DPRTE, most of which took place on university (private) land including the intimidation, repression, harassment and criminalisation of protesters by the police.
  • The role of PC Mark Brain (UWE’s community police officer) who was involved with policing this event.
  • The collaboration between the police and UWE, including the possible involvement of UWE staff in such criminalisation. In particular, on the one hand, UWE allowed one intelligence-gathering police team to gather video evidence on non-protesting students at the very heart of the University, far from any protest and after all protests had ceased[4] and, on the other hand, Annette Hennessy, UWE’s Head of Security, was seen gathering evidence about protesters without their consent. The review should determine what evidence was gathered by Annette Hennessy, whether that or any other evidence collected by UWE staff was shared with the police and, conversely, whether the police shared any evidence with UWE staff.
  • The behaviour of DPRTE participants and DPRTE organisers towards the protests and the protesters. In particular, one protester was assaulted by a DPRTE participant who caused him a bleeding injury. Moreover, DPRTE organisers silenced the issues by writing off the protests from their communications throughout the day and by claiming they were having a fantastic event.
  • The responsibilities of the WesternEye. In particular, on 20 November 2013, one of their journalists stated that “The Western Eye will be publishing a full review of the day’s events, from both inside and outside the ECC, later this week”. However, it failed to do so, contributing to the silencing of student activists.
  • UWESU’s responsibilities. In particular, UWESU ignored an urgent request to meet the five presidents in person to discuss breaches to our health and safety as well as to our democratic rights (emailed to all five presidents and discussed in person with Hannah Khan, VP Societies and Communication). Since then, UWESU has also systematically obstructed attempts to hold UWE and UWESU accountable for their actions on 20 November.
  • UWE’s democratic culture. In addition to the numerous issues previously briefly evoked, some protesters reported, and were witnessed, being bullied by fellow UWE students for participating to the 20 November protests.

Given UWE’s actions on the day and subsequently, particularly the direct involvement of UWE VC and UWE’s Head of Security against the protests, as well as UWE’s contempt for protesters’ security and democratic rights, students have no trust in UWE and call for this review to be fully independent from UWE. Given UWESU’s actions on the day, in particular the fact that UWESU presidents ignored an urgent request to meet in order to discuss the safeguarding of protesters’ security and democratic rights, as well as UWESU’s subsequent obstruction of efforts to hold UWE and UWESU accountable for their actions on 20 November 2013, participating students have no trust in UWESU and call for this review to be fully independent from UWESU. The independence of the review would then be guaranteed by a panel of experts from across a wide and adequate range of disciplines, selected from within and outside UWE, for their demonstrable commitment to:

  • the importance of intellectual pluralism within universities,
  • the role of universities in advancing progressive social change throughout history,
  • the democratic role of universities within contemporary societies.

We look forward to reading a clear answer to this demand for a transparent, comprehensive and independent review at your earliest opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

UWE students

From CAAT: Arms Companies not welcome at UWE

This article was posted with several pictures on the website of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) Universities Network on 21 November 2013 (http://universities.caat.org.uk/arms-companies-not-welcome-at-uwe/).

Students of the University of the West of England joined forces with Bristol Against the Arms Trade yesterday to protest and disrupt the DPRTE conference, hosted by the university in the UWE exhibition and conference centre. Attendees included Babcock International, BAE Systems, Chemring, DSTL, Raytheon and UK Trade Industry Defence and Security Organisation.

Members of Bristol Against the Arms Trade released this statement:

Companies attending today’s ‘Defence, Procurement, Research, Technology and Exportation’ Event were greeted this morning by queues trailing back along the A4174 as protesters blocked the UWE North Entrance. One gate was eventually locked and attendees forced to use other entrances. Later as they approached the building attendees were accompanied to the door of UWE’s Exhibition and Conference Centre by protesters just letting them know who would be attending the event; the likes of Raytheon (cluster bombs in Iraq, missiles in Gaza), Babcock (nuclear submarines), Chemring (teargas used in the Arab Spring) and our good friends BAE Systems. Crowds of protesters gathered at the entrance to ensure that UWE were suitably embarrassed to be holding the event and that those entering were told they weren’t welcome on the campus or in our city. Some UWE students peacefully enter arms conference and staged a die-in. They were threatened with arrest for trespassing on their own university.
The protest continued around campus letting students know what was being held at their space and banners held at each entrance. Arms dealers and the likes of these companies will be greeted by the same response at future events at UWE.
See:

https://www.facebook.com/NOWMDatUWE

Petition to stop UWE’s investment and support of the arms industry: 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

UWE released two statements in response:

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor for the University of the West of England, insisted the exhibition “is not an arms fair”. He said: “The exhibitors at this conference do not have any form of munitions, weaponry, artillery or hazardous military equipment on site. It is not University policy to support arms fairs. The conference and exhibition focuses on helping the management of procurement projects for the defence industry, a key sector in the British economy.”

University spokesman, Keith Hicks commented, “It is our policy not to support arms fairs. This is not an arms fair. This is a conference that promotes project management of large procurement projects and supply chain management. The University is also not a sponsor of the conference or involved besides the rental of the space.

To which the protesters expertly responded with:

Although Keith Hicks and Steve West are keen to assert that DPRTE is not an arms fair, they have either been naively sucked in by the arms industry’s misleading jargon, or are knowingly complicit in covering up the university’s vested interest in the arms trade.

The statement that it “promotes project management of large procurement projects and supply chain management” is true, but meaningless because it avoids saying what is being procured, and what the chain is supplying – a quick look at their website show that they themselves promote it as a “defence showcase”. Our concern is not that there were “munitions, weaponry, artillery or hazardous military equipment on site”, we were not concerned about being blown up or shot at on campus that day. Our concern is that companies producing such products, and other less obvious items, were meeting to continue ‘business as usual’, that networking at these events is a crucial step in the supply chain of products that end up facilitating and fueling war and destruction.

The DPRTE event invites corporations to network, share knowledge and “showcase the latest technologies”. The list of attending companies includes BAE (the world’s 3rd largest arms company) Raytheon (cluster bombs, guided bomb systems, tomahawks and other military equipment used in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon) Roke Manor Research (who produced tear gas used in the Arab spring) and Babcock (who refurbished the UK’s nuclear submarine). Many smaller companies, who may not yet be producing weapons, are clearly attending in the hope of increasing their chances of getting profitable contracts.

Keith may be right in stating that UWE is not a sponsor of this conference – however, UWE has consistently showed its support of the arms industry – in March UWE sponsored the president of Boeing to give a talk; UWE has invited arms companies such as Airbus, Babcock and Boeing to its careers fairs and UWE’s engineering department is proud to play an “important part” in developing the global market of aerospace technology, and boasts “increasing activity” in Unmaned Aerial Vehicles (drones).

UWE’s willingness to rent it’s facilities to this event are yet another indication of its involvement in the arms trade and lack of ethical conscience. UWE students are starting to ask questions about their university’s relationship with the ams industry, and despite UWE’s attempts to keep this hidden, there is a growing student movement taking action.

We wish to send our best wishes and solidarity to those who were at the protest and to those who were later harassed by a police FIT team in response to this action.

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