SOAS Student’s Union has a strict ‘Cops Off Campus’ policy and hasn’t been shy about letting anyone know about it since it was adopted in 2011.
Disregarding this, members of the Metropolitan Police Service on October 5th chose to tail several SOAS students through the streets of London and attempt to enter our University.
Earlier in the day, a group had headed to the Royal Courts of Justice from our Russell Square campus to take part in the ‘Roadblock For Justice’ protest happening there. The action, organised by UKUncut and DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), against government plans to slash spending on Legal Aid, effectively reducing access to legal advice for some of society’s poorest people. It went ahead, as planned, under police supervision and without incident. The protest took place well within the limitations agreed upon by the police, no arrests were made and no illegal actions took place.
Despite this, two members of the Metropolitan Police decided to follow several students as they left the area once the protest had been forced to conclude. One of the protesters receiving this unwanted attention said the officers offered no explanation as to why they had been chosen to be followed, but did tell them that “if you tell us where you’re going, this’ll be much easier”.
Hearing that police were nearing SOAS and seemed to have no intention of leaving these students alone, several participants of the Students’ Union ‘Campaigns Carnival’ headed to the gate on Malet Street to ensure their friends would safely enter the campus and that the police would not. Upon encountering the hastily assembled welcoming committee, the officers were informed of the Students’ Union policy, which they claimed to be aware of, and, when questioned, were unable to give any substantial reason for having followed and intimidated the students. One participant said it was “outrageous that innocent protesters…had been followed” and described the incident as “a clear example of police harassment”. After this brief but heated discussion, officer QK 75 produced what appeared to be a personal iPhone and began filming students who had challenged him as they walked away. When asked to stop, he refused.
Around half an hour later, another two Metropolitan Police officers were spotted on campus. When they entered the main building, a crowd of around 30 students, including elected Students’ Union officials, gathered to inform the officers that they were not welcome. The officers claimed to be there for unrelated reasons and simply wanted to view footage from at CCTV camera relating to an alleged hit-and-run incident on Russell Square.
While it is possible that these incidents were unrelated, at least one student has claimed that when first asked why they had come, one of the officers said they had been “asked by colleagues who were here earlier”.
At the Union General Meeting held after this incident, the Students’ Union restated its ‘no cops on campus’ policy and adopted new measures to ensure its implementation. Despite this policy, police are legally permitted to enter the Union as it is a licensed premises.