Occupation of Aston Webb building
Universities are places of free speech and we respect the rights of students and staff to protest peacefully and within the law. This is clearly outlined in our Freedom of Speech Code of Practice (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/university/legal/freedom-speech.pdf).
The University welcomes debate on key policy issues and there are a variety of ways in which the legitimate concerns of students can be raised and responded to, for example via the 115 students who sit on key University committees. Those in occupation of the Aston Webb building have chosen not to engage in these processes and are not acting on behalf of the student body.
At approximately 7pm on Wednesday night a small number of masked protesters took illegal occupation of part of the Aston Webb building. This group is not representative of the wider student body and has not been mandated by the Guild of Students to carry out this illegal action. To date the action has caused disruption to more than 2,000 students by preventing them from accessing parts of the building used for teaching, prevented disabled staff and students from accessing the first floor of Aston Webb and prevented staff from leaving their offices. It has also raised significant safety issues for the occupiers themselves who have locked fire exits, barricaded stair cases and climbed on high ledges that were not built to sustain the weight of an adult.
Our priority is the safety and well being of our students, staff and the wider community and we are concerned where any protest poses a potential hazard to protesters or bystanders, impacts on the education of our students, causes unwarranted disruptions to study or work, or damage to property. It is regrettable therefore that, contrary to their claims, the action of this tiny, unrepresentative minority has diverted resources, potentially diminishing both the safety and learning experience of our 28,000 other students, and harassed and intimidated staff trying to carry out their normal duties.
The occupiers’ action is aggravated trespass and the police would have ordinarily been involved from the outset, however the University took the decision not to ask the police to intervene immediately and sought to secure a resolution by working with the President of the Guild of Students and other Sabbatical Officers to try and end the occupation. The University has also ensured that the occupiers have access to basic human rights such as water, toilets and food. However we are sad to report that members of staff have been injured as result of the action of the protestors and the police are investigating. In addition, following repeated requests to the occupiers to leave the building over the last five days, which have all been ignored, regrettably, as a last resort, the University has had to go to Court to obtain possession of the building.
A High Court judge awarded possession and an injunction specifically preventing further occupation of the campus and its buildings by those involved, without prior consent of the University, for a period of 12 months from today, Monday 25th November. The injunction does not impact on the right of students or staff to protest peacefully and within the law anywhere on campus. Details of the injunction will be posted here shortly.
Statement from the Guild of Students: 'The Guild of Students has been made aware that a number of Birmingham students yesterday occupied the Senate Chamber, Aston Webb on University campus, and are still in occupation this morning. The Guild recognises the right of students to protest peacefully on campus to raise awareness on student related issues. Whilst not a Guild organised occupation, the Guild can confirm occupants have access to basic human rights, such as water and toilets. The Guild encourages the University and the people in occupation to engage in a positive dialogue on the issues raised and hopes for a swift resolution.'