Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cops on the Corporate Campus

STUDENTS occupying a building at Warwick University vowed on Monday that they would not leave quietly without a change of attitude from the authorities. They want apologies from the university and the West Midlands police over the way a previous protest was treated.

Last Wednesday police sprayed CS gas in the faces of students and threatened them with a taser. The protesting students, supporting the Campaign for Free Education, were occupying the reception area of the university administration building. Three students were arrested

 As news spread of the police assault on what the students said was a peaceful protest over tuition fees, students and many academics around the country responded with messages of protest to the Warwick authorities and solidarity with the students.

In Coventry former MP and councillor Dave Nellist said the police action was a disgrace, and called for a full public investigation.

About 1,000 students took part in a demonstration on the university's Coventry campus on Thursday morning, following which a group of campaigners took control of the entire top floor of the university’s conference centre, the Rootes Building.  Although the term has officially ended the students were continuing their stay this week, and have smuggled a Christmas tree into the building.

"The group was visited by academic registrar Dr Michael Glover on Friday before a letter was sent which asked them to end their trespass on the site.

University spokesman Peter Dunn has since confirmed the protesters could be forcibly removed.

He said: “As with all of these occupations, we reserve the right to bring a protest to an end if protesters do not bring it to an end themselves.”

But anti-fees campaigners say they will make eviction from building "as difficult as possible"
Warwick University CS spray protesters could be forcibly removed, Simon Gilbert, Coventry Evening Telegraph, December 8.

Earlier, replying to an e-mail from vice chancellor Nigel Thift which alleged a security officer had been assaulted and a door broken, the occupiers had called the vice chancellor a liar, and accused him of showing more concern about a door than the lives of students. Their statement said they were building a community, and invited others to join them.

West Midlands police said an investigation of the campus action would be undertaken by their Prfessional Standards department.  “The inquiry will determine the appropriateness of the actions taken by the officers who had been called in by the university after reports of assault on a member of their security staff.” 

News of occupations at Warwick and even mention of the Rootes building brings back memories.
It was back in 1970, when Warwick, under innovative vice chancellor Jack Butterworth, was one of the bright and shiny new universities set up under the Wilson government's policy of expanding access to higher education and promoting modern technology and business.

Students who peacefully occupied the administration offices without resistance came upon a remarkable collection of documents in an unlocked file. One was a letter from Rootes Motors (later to become Chrysler) management, marked 'Strictly Confidential', with a report of a meeting on Coventry Labour Party premises. My late friend and comrade Harry Finch, a shop steward at Alfred Herbert machine tools, was mentioned, but the main focus was on the speaker, Dr.David Montgomery, a visiting American academic at Warwick's Centre for the Study of Social History.

Gilbert Hunt, a Director of Rootes Motors, member of the University Council and chairman of its Building Committee, had sent his corporate Director of Legal Affairs, accompanied by a security officer, to listen in on the meeting. The object of this surveillance was apparently to ascertain if Montgomery, who had a trade union background before his academic status, and was meeting trade union activists in Coventry, could be prosecuted under the 1919 Aliens Restriction Act.

Another letter found in the files concerned the political background of a student applicant for a place at Warwick. Underneath was scrawled the message "Reject this man", initialled "JB" -presumed to be Butterworth.

The Warwick University occupation back in 1970 spearheaded a nationwide campaign by students concerned about secret files and the use to which they are put, which reverberates today with the much more serious campaign by workers fighting against blacklisting. Professor E.P.Thompson, whom Butterworth himself had appointed, resigned from the University, and wrote the book, Warwick University Ltd., relating the student discoveries to what can happen when a university is too close to business.

Jack Butterworth went on to become Lord Butterworth, a Tory peer.

While the Warwick university campaigners were settling into their occupation, a different aspect of the place of universities, and of police on university premises, was brought into focus at the London  Metropolitan University, on Holloway Road, on Friday.

Around 25 protesters, assembled under the banner of “Islington Against Police Spies”, handed out leaflets and spoke to students, staff and passers-by about the employment of  Bob Lambert, the former undercover cop who infiltrated environmentalists groups. Using a different name, Lambert established a two-year relationship with one unsuspecting campaigner, and fathered a child with her, before disappearing to restart his career elsewhere.

Last month the force apologised “unreservedly” for Mr Lambert’s actions after agreeing to pay out £425,000 compensation to the mother of the child.

Bob Lambert has also been accused, under parliamentary privilege, of planting a bomb in a department store as part of an operation to discredit animal rights activists. In June 2012 Green MP Caroline Lucas said in Parliament that Lambert  had planted a fire bomb that caused £340,000 worth of damage to the Harrow branch of Debenhams department store in 1987 as part of his undercover work in the Animal Liberation Front. Lambert denied this. Two animal rights campaigners served four years in prison for similar attacks.

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group says Lambert is also implicated in the police gathering of information supplied for the purpose of blacklisting trade unionists.

The official position now is that Mr Lambert works part-time as a senior lecturer in London Met’s John Grieve Policing Centre. He is an expert in counter-terrorism and has published articles about hate crime. He became a doctor after completing a terrorism studies PhD at Exeter University.

In a statement, London Met said: “While we recognise the mistakes Bob made in his police career, for which he has apologised and displayed deep regret, we have absolute faith in him as a lecturer and member of our community. During a 31-year policing career, Bob made a significant contribution to tackling terrorism, political violence and hate crimes in London which, along with his strong academic record, makes him a valuable asset to criminology teaching at London Met.”

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