by Simon Furse, originally posted on his Facebook.
As I described here I am the only student in the country facing a disciplinary after hundreds of students went into occupation of their universities on November 23rd. During the Christmas Holidays I received the evidence that would be submitted against me and was surprised to find that the main prosecution witness was my own Union President, Mark Harrop. That Harrop had betrayed one of his students in this way was bad enough. However the text of the witness statement further revealed that Harrop had repeatedly lied to students about his actions regarding my disciplinary and the infamous injunction. Harrop’s testimony even goes beyond fact and tries to portray me in the worst possible light, speculating negatively against my actions and character. His testimony is worse than that of university senior managers and the head of security.
What emerges in the witness statement is that Mark Harrop, in defiance of a guild mandate, sided with the university in trying to supress a peaceful protest. This was not disclosed to students and to protect himself and the University Harrop repeatedly lied about and misrepresented his actions. Because of his statement I am more likely to be expelled from the university.
The Guild has a policy of supporting peaceful protest and all officers of the Guild are mandated to do so. In his blog Harrop refers to his role in the occupation as a “mediator” between the occupiers and the University. In Union Council he stated that the Guild would not submit a statement in support of the disciplined student because he did not want such a statement to impact negatively on the student’s case. On a guild facebook group, he said that any misconduct is a “private matter between the University and student” and that the guild would not get involved unless “the student asks for Guild involvement.” Regarding my allegation of assault by University Security Harrop said “It is not appropriate for me to say what exactly went on because I simply don’t know”.
Far from caring about my welfare or remaining neutral, Harrop identifies me on three separate occasions, all of which when he was acting as Guild President. Harrop also writes, ignoring his public statement and without any kind of evidence, that my allegation of assault against a security officer should be held at “arm’s length” and assumed “false.” In the Guild executive meeting, when questioned, Mark Harrop insisted repeatedly that in his evidence he did not give any “negative speculation.”
At the time of the occupation the guild submitted a statement supporting the occupier’s right to protest. Mark Harrop came along to observe what was happening and strongly implied that he supported the students taking the action. At one point he goes on video saying that he would have joined the protest outside had he not been busy with meetings.
While the Head of Security and The Director of Academic Services explicitly states that security staff did not feel threatened or receive any abuse, Harrop expresses his concern that students outside the occupation were “intimidating for the security staff.” Harrop also alleges various cases of damage, supposedly committed by students, that are not in any of the other witness statements and do not form part of the allegations against me.
Mark Harrop has used guild time and his guild position (paid for by students) to act totally contrary to his public statements and guild mandates. Going to peaceful protests as a supposedly neutral observer in order to incriminate the students who take part is not support. Officers of the guild need to act accountably telling their constituents what they are doing and why. The last line of Harrop’s statement (“I am willing to attend (a disciplinary hearing) as a witness, but state the political sensitivity that comes with a Student Officer in a situation like this.”) shows that he knew that his actions would not be accepted by the student body yet he did them anyway.
Last December the University of Birmingham was condemned by major international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Liberty. It was condemned for taking out an injunction against student protestors. The Injunction is worded so ambiguously that lawyers claim it could be used to stop “all stationary protests on campus”. Human Rights groups have attacked the protest ban as ‘aggressive and censorious’.
Mark Harrop in his capacity as Guild of Students President described himself as having “monitored” the occupation. He claimed to the occupiers that he was there to support the occupiers and that he was trying to make sure the “human rights” of the Guild’s members in and outside occupation were upheld. Despite claiming to be protecting students “human rights” he actively assisted the university’s repressive attitude and regressive actions towards peaceful protestors. Not only did he actively aid my disciplinary but his actions also show him to be clearly unconcerned with protecting the wider student body.
His testimony shows that even though he was aware of the injunction from the offset; he did not raise any objections with the university until he was heavily pressured by students to do so, and only after the university’s actions were condemned by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations in the Guardian on December 11th.
After being informed about the injunction, and having a briefing from senior managers, Harrop’s response was not to object, but rather he headed to the occupation with other officers. Knowing the University was preparing to remove the protesters, possibly by force, if they did not comply with the injunction, Harrop’s concern when being called to scene was not with the students but that if he didn’t keep his distance they might become “suspicious.”
Despite being personally aware of the injunction, and that any student involved in a protest on campus could potentially find themselves being confronted with it, he did not inform the student body of the injunction or its implications. Further he did not even inform the other members of the Guild Officer team. The first public statements made about the injunction were after the two articles in the Guardian regarding Amnesty International’s commendation of the University.
Before this statement came out I trusted that, while the guild wouldn’t organize protest on campus, it would not seek to repress it. I was planning to seek help from the guild in my disciplinary but I feel completely betrayed by an organization that is supposed to protect me. Harrop has undermined the representative function of the Guild and, for the second time this year, discredited its position as a student union.
Harrop’s Witness Statement
Some examples of Misleading public statements
I’d just like to say that your actions in helping those student in occupation are commendable really pleased that you were willing to do what you did today x
BhamGuild Pres Ident Thanks appreciate it
Thanks for the thanks. Without sounding cliché, I and the Guild want to make sure welfare is protected no matter what the circumstance, hence why myself and the Vice President (welfare) went down earlier today. I then stayed for the remainder of the day to speak with the University, security and police and mediate on certain issues.