Schoolgirl screams in pain at the hands of Cambridge Union Society security staff

31 May 2011

Exclusive: Following the events reported online by The Cambridge Student newspaper on 24 May “Outrage over student protest at Cambridge Union – Union security staff “Out of control” – TCS has obtained a horrific photo of a 15 year old schoolgirl screaming in pain as Cambridge Union security staff drag from her student protest during the recent visit of a UK Government Minister.

A 15 year-old schoolgirl has contacted The Cambridge Student claiming she “was assaulted on an outdoor staircase” by a member of security during last week’s protest at the Cambridge Union society.

Around forty activists gathered outside the Union building last Tuesday to protest at a talk given by Conservative MP and Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles. Protesters managed to enter the building before being forcibly ejected by security staff working for the Union (understood to be from Hyline Security, Cambridge). Uniformed police officers were also in attendance.

After they were ejected from inside the building, the protesters gathered at the rear of the property. Some – including 15 year-old Elidh – decided to climb a staircase outside the chamber where Pickles was speaking.

In accordance with press industry guidelines, TCS has chosen not to report Elidh’s surname in the interests of her welfare, although the girl and her mother were both happy to go fully on the record.

Elidh told TCS: “I was asked by the security guard if I would “like to walk down the stairs”. I said no, so instead him and another guard took me from either side and attempted to carry me down the staircase. Not enjoying being carried down a fairly high staircase I attempted to stay on the ground and the security guard on my right started to bend back my wrist/fingers.

“When I asked him to stop he told me that he wouldn’t unless I came peacefully, yet even when I agreed to he didn’t stop.

“He continued to bend further and further back whilst I was obviously in pain and everyone, including his colleague was telling him to stop. He only actually stopped when two policemen came and intervened at which point I was released.

“Afterwards I found it difficult to move my right hand (I’m right handed) and I was unable to cycle home. The next morning I had a GCSE physics exam and found it difficult to write with my right hand and had to use my left instead which was also difficult.”

Elidh’s mother Pippa said: “I am very, very unhappy about what happened to my daughter at that protest. In fact she shouldn’t have been at the protest, as she went without telling me – and as she had a GCSE the next day, I would not have allowed her to go-but that is neither here nor there.

“From what she describes, the security guard in question seems to have assaulted Elidh – and been overly aggressive without reason. I was shocked to hear what had happened to my daughter. Elidh is only 15 and it is completely out of order that she should be treated in that way by a Cambridge University Union security guard, when all she was doing was protesting peacefully.

“The wisdom or justice of the protest is irrelevant to that fact. Elidh is a very slight girl, and the security guard was a big, burly man.

“Such measures were simply uncalled for in the circumstances. When she came home (brought by a man who had been at the protest), her right hand was swollen and she couldn’t move it properly. I was distraught, particularly as Elidh had an important GCSE exam the next morning.”

She added: “Elidh went to Parkside Police Station about it, but the police dismissed her complaint in summary fashion – telling her action could only be taken if she had broken her hand or wrist.”

Pippa said she will be contacting the police again about what happened, and is also considering legal action.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary Press Office declined to comment. Protest group Cambridge Defend Education were unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

Following the protest, a statement (reproduced here in full) was issued by a spokesperson for the Cambridge Union:

“At around 18.00, protestors started to gather outside the front doors of the Cambridge Union. The protest began peacefully, with around 50 people taking part. The Cambridge Union Society respects the right to protest, and no action was taken at this point, despite the protest taking place on the Society’s premises.

“At approximately 19.30, some of the protestors entered the building through a side door, and attempted to block Mr Pickles’ entry to the Chamber. The Union is still investigating how they gained entry. Around 15 protestors proceeded to bang drums, chant and heckle in the foyer. They remained there for five to ten minutes, during which they were asked repeatedly to leave by both Union officers and security personnel. They refused, despite being told they were breaking the law. At this point the police stated that reasonable force could be used to remove them from the premises.

“Under the supervision of police, security guards (Highline Security) removed the protesters from the foyer to the outside entrance. Police have stated they were satisfied that the force used in removing the protestors was reasonable. At this point, a security guard was punched in the back of the head by a protestor. The police then prevented protestors from re-entering the building.

“Mr Pickles then entered the chamber and delivered his speech while protesters attempted to disrupt the event from outside the building, and tried to force entry to the chamber several times by the top and side fire exits. The Union allowed the protestors to remain in the rear car park, and the protestors continued chanting and heckling. However the rest of the event passed without incident. The protestors had largely dissipated before Mr. Pickles left the event.”

Union President-Elect Calum Macdonald said that “The Union at all times tried to allow peaceful public protest to take place whilst defending the right to free speech. It was only when a small but vocal and disruptive group of protestors were preventing the event from happening that the Union removed them from the building. The Union is committed to respecting the right to protest and during the rest of the evening protestors were allowed protest on Union premises.”

“Mr. Pickles was able to give his speech as planned, albeit with a slight delay, and took a range of questions from the audience. At no point did protestors gain access to the Chamber.”

Story: James Burton – News Editor

Photo: AS – TCS News