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.
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).
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.”
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 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.