Newall ordered “opportunistic” removal operation, says Hetherington Inquiry

Published

A protester being carried out via the back door of 13 University Gardens on 22nd March. (photo: Sean Anderson)

The Inquiry into the events of 22nd March, which saw an attempt to evict the Occupiers of 13 University Gardens turn into a major Strathclyde Police operation involving a police helicopter and dog unit, made its findings public today.

The inquiry was chaired by University Rector, Charles Kennedy MP, and the members were George Moore QC, Professor Sheila Rowan MBE, and Fraser Sutherland, former Vice-President of the Students’ Representative Council. Written evidence was submitted by 19 individuals and Strathclyde Police. The Inquiry also received verbal evidence from members of the University Senior Management Group, including the Principal, Anton Muscatelli.

The Chairman expressed “disappointment” that despite “repeated efforts” including a “written guarantee from the Secretary to the University Court, confirming that any written or oral evidence provided by the Hetherington protesters themselves would not be used to their detriment at a later date by the university authorities”, no evidence by members of the occupation was ever submitted.

Despite this gap in evidence, the Inquiry reached a series of conclusions, with implications for a number of areas of the University. Most notably the report criticised the “opportunistic” attempt to bring the occupation to an end on 22nd March as one which was taken “without due consideration of the possible outcomes”. The report suggests that University Management should have realised such a decision would “likely give rise to significant problems”. The Inquiry also found fault with how the decision to proceed was made, “It should not have been left to one person, in this particular case the Secretary of Court [David Newall]… without any attempt being made to consult with other members of the Response Team.”

In their evidence, Strathclyde Police also acknowledged that mistakes had been made on the day: “the Police have confirmed that the Police officers who attended and removed the protesters should not have done so as they had no legal authority for this action.” However, the inquiry also noted that once the Police responded to an “urgent call” for assistance, the situation was no longer under the control of the university.

The Inquiry noted that the members of the university response team who gave oral evidence were “perplexed” as to why Strathclyde Police withdrew as protesters “reached the cloisters and [were] evidently becoming more violent and aggressive”. However it was conjectured that the Police in attendance “were aware or became aware” of the “strong preference” expressed by the university in the past that officers should not enter campus during student protests and withdrew accordingly.

The main recommendations from the report include:

  • A review of the University’s lock-down procedures, the use of secure communications, CCTV and Security Industry Authority accreditation for campus security staff as well as a recommendation that the Head of Security should direct security operations from a distance rather than being on the front line.
  • A recognition that negotiations should only be conducted with elected student representatives, to avoid undermining the legitimacy of the SRC in particular.
  • The University should seek to clarify with Strathclyde Police the circumstances in which Police should enter and leave campus during student protests and demonstrations as well as undertaking detailed discussions regarding action plans for any future incidents.

The full report is available from the University website: http://www.gla.ac.uk/students/news/headline_203796_en.html

GUSRC’s response to the Report can be viewed here https://www.facebook.com/notes/glasgow-university-students-representative-council-gusrc/gusrc-response-to-hetherington-inquiry-report/10150293962948201

Update: the Free Hetherington has issued a response to the Inquiry http://freehetherington.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/response-to-the-hetherington-inquiry/