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King’s College apologises for banning students during royal visit

26th Jul 2019
King’s College apologises for banning students during royal visit

Kings College London (Photo: Katy Ereira/Wiki Commons)

Harun Nasrullah

King’s College London officials apologised for submitting the names of students, among them pro-Palestinian activists, to the police and blocking others from entering university premises during a visit by the Queen.

King’s College London said the actions it had taken against students were “wrong and did not meet our values” after it admitted that staff had created blacklists of student activists using photos and CCTV footage.

King’s College London officials were forced to admit to compiling a ‘disgruntle studentslist to Metropolitan Police when students had complained that they had been denied access to premises during a visit by the Queen on March 19.

A damning independent report published on July 4, concluded that university staff had ‘overstepped their authoritywhen they disabled the electronic entry cards of 13 students who were for over five hours barred from entering exam halls, the library, the student’s union and even residential halls.

It also found KCL’s security services breached both the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its own policies when it handed student names to the police.
In a letter to staff and students the university’s acting principal, Professor Evelyn Welch, apologised and accepted the reports’ ‘findings and recommendations in fulladding they ‘are putting in place a plan to address all the issues that have been raised.

However, in a statement released on July 5, the students affected said the report was “a damning account of institutional incompetence and wrongdoing” but said, “legally and morally, these events demonstrate that KCL management is not able to run a university.

One of the affected students, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was “stunned that one of the country’s top university needs the recommendations of an independent report to be told not to infringe on the most basic of student rights.

He added that “the policy of barring students during the visits by dignitaries would now be a routine practice had the incident not been publicised.

In a statement to The Muslim News, KLC Student Union said it was “disgusted and disappointed” by the actions of staff, and said it proved students were right to be concerned about surveillance on campus.

“In the aftermath of the initial incident, students raised concerns that there was a list which had been created through surveillance, and the report confirms this by revealing that the university cross-referenced CCTV footage and access gate information to create a list of students and one staff member who was involved in a protest against an unrelated event,” the union’s leaders said.

“We are furthermore deeply concerned by the revelation that the university can effectively track the locations of students via access gate records. We are students, not prisoners who must be tracked around campus.

The debacle represents the latest run-in between pro-Palestinian students KLC that is often perceived to take a hard line when containing student activism. A list of student protesters was first compiled after student protests erupted on March 4 against a visit to the university by Eli Bar-on, a former senior member of the Israeli army.

The university had already stepped in to change the venue and limit entry to members of the Israeli Speaker Society, which was hosting the event after they raised concerns about protests taking place during the talk. After raising safety concerns to senior university management the day after, KCL’s head of security, who has since left his job, was asked by the university’s Deputy Vice President of Strategy to “please package up the identity of individuals” so that a disciplinary process could be started.

Days later the head of security sent senior staff a dossier of 16 students and one staff member, identified using CCTV footage and photos and including their course details and society membership. No data protection assessment was carried out, the report said.

Emails show that on March 15, Richard Kent, the Assistant Director Of Campus Operations, wrote to the royalty protection unit at the Metropolitan Police to inform them of reports that ‘disgruntled students may try some noisy protest’ during the Queen’s visit. After a meeting to discuss how to disrupt potential protests, Kent moots the idea of disabling student IDs with Tessa Harrison, Director of Students and Education.

‘I am sorry, but I can’t support this. The rationale set out below could be potentially viewed as discriminatory and it feels very underhand to disable the cards,’ she replied by email
On March 18, the day before the royal visit, the police replied to Kent asking for the names and other details of the students.

Kent replied less than half an hour later, sending the dossier. See attached sheets of our main protesters who move between groups and topics depending on their moods,’ he writes.

In another email, Kent appears reluctant to meet a police request asking for the date of birth and social media accounts of the students because it might “raise flags. Yet he goes on to list several student societies, including KCL Action Palestine, KCL Climate Strike and KCL Intersectional Feminists.

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