Outrage over student protest at Cambridge Union – Union security staff “Out of control”

24 May 2011

Scandal hit the Cambridge Union tonight as the visit of Government Minister Eric Pickles sparked student protests. Cambridge Union officials have come under fire as protesters were forcibly ejected from Union property and a TCS journalist was physically removed despite being given Union permission to be present at the event.

Security staff hired by the Cambridge Union Society forcibly ejected a number of student protesters tonight – and a Cambridge Student journalist.

A crowd of about 60 had gathered outside the Union Society to protest during a talk by Conservative Communities Minister Eric Pickles, which was co-hosted by Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA). Although Pickles made it inside the building without any confrontation, at least fifteen protesters entered the Union building through its cellars, as the talk was due to start. Banging drums, they blocked the entrance to the debating chamber and prevented the Cabinet Minister from entering to speak.

Moments later, bouncers hired by the Union (understood to be from Hyline Security, Cambridge) began to push the protesters out. Miles Watson, a student at Hills Road Sixth Form College, was forced to the ground by his neck and dragged outside. Several more students were also dragged outside, as four police officers looked on inside the Union building. One protester stated “The security was out of control” another later suggested a 15-year old girl was injured by security, but this could not be confirmed at the time of going to press.

This reporter was roughly ejected from the Union building by security; despite my explanation I was a journalist attending the event with full permission. It was only after the intervention of Union Press Secretary Rebecca Bailey that I was allowed to re-enter.

Inside the Chamber, Pickles’ voice was largely drowned out by the drumming of the protesters outside the building, whose silhouettes could be seen through the windows. Pickles called the noise “a tad tiring,” adding “but that’s all it is.” Talking to a largely sympathetic crowd, he said, as the noise of drums gradually died away, “There is something within the left, a kind of intolerance, which is ultimately why I stay on the right.”

When Queen’s student and Labour member Charlie Bell asked Pickles what he felt the Conservatives could do to solve what he considered to be there image problem, the Minister said the real problem was “posh people like who feel a bit guilty so they go and join the Labour party.” Bell responded by accusing Pickles of an unnecessary personal attack. Afterwards, he told TCS: “The UK is in dire straits if this is where grown up political dialogue is going.”

Union President-Elect Callum MacDonald said: “reasonable force was used. According to the police, they were satisfied with the way the security guards behaved.” He added that one security guard had been assaulted, although TCS has not been able to confirm this at the time of publication.

Story & Photos – James Burton, News Editor