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Birmingham Guild of Students+RBS+police collude to criminalise protest on campus

Birmingham student | 25.09.2008 19:39 | Birmingham

On Tuesday 23rd September the University of Birmingham Guild of Students attempted to stop its own student members from holding and distributing materials from their own stall criticising the Royal Bank of Scotland, a paying exhibitor at a corporate freshers fair held on the same day in another part of the building. At an incident later in the day the Guild refused to intervene when police threatened to arrest students distributing leaflets unless they disclosed their names, addresses and other details.

On the morning of Tuesday 23rd September Guild staff and reps attempted to confiscate material critical of the Royal Bank of Scotland from a stall organised by People & Planet, a Guild society, in the 'Change the World Fair' on the request of RBS, a paying exhibitor at a fair in another part of the building. Stall holders refused and after a protracted and heated argument the Guild rep conceded that she no grounds to enforce RBS's request and left. RBS was unhappy that literature critical of the banks unsustainable funding of oil and gas projects, part of a sustained national campaign by People & Planet endorsed by the NUS, had found its way down to the corporate fair in the hands of interested students. This encounter was quickly followed by another representation by a different pair of staff + rep which now informed the stall holders that any body found distributing materials in the corporate fair would be removed by security, on further highly dubious grounds.

Later in the day, in direct defiance of the Guild's unprecedented intervention in the right of students to hold and distribute pre - approved material on union premises, one member flyered students immediately next to the RBS stall. Instead of allowing the union officials to deal with the incident RBS staff summoned two police officers who informed the student that his actions - distributing material critical of RBS - may constitute a 'breach of the peace' and proceeded to take him aside and attempt to obtain his details under threat of arrest. After initially refusing he called for some assistance from another student at which point the police changed their story and claimed they needed to take his details in case he committed some offense in the future if he refused to leave the university grounds. After it became clear to the police that the details of neither himself nor his 'assistance' were going to be disclosed they left , informing the student that if he did not leave university premises he would be liable for arrest. At no point during this farcical attempt by the police to intimidate the student into disclosing his details did any member of Guild staff or rep attempt to intervene in the interest of the students welfare.

These incidents represent a worrying development in the way the Birmingham Guild of Students treats the rights of students to raise awareness about pertinent political issues amongst the student body, both under the law and its own constitution. The actions of West Midlands Police also appear to be an attempt to criminalise lawful protest on campus, as well as an attempt to gather intelligence and criminalise a much wider network of individuals engaged in criticism of the company in collusion with the company. It remains to be seen how this strategy will develop as the campaign against RBS is widened to other events on campus and elsewhere during the coming academic year.

Birmingham student


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  1. well done! — greentea