BUSH HOUSE SECURITY REPORT: Roar gives the full breakdown

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On March 19th, HM The Queen came to King’s on an official visit. Only hours after images of the Queen entering Bush House began to circulate social media, another story began to emerge, as several students noticed they were denied access to King’s buildings during the day of the visit. Furthermore, the students who were denied access appeared to have been selected due to their participation in student activism and protests earlier in the year. An investigation was launched into the issue on March 21st and yesterday King’s released a 43-page report to conclude it, showing evidence of wrongdoing by the university in failing to follow King’s data protection policy and to protect student welfare. 

The full report carried out by Chief Investigator Laura Gibbs was published on 4th July alongside a letter from acting principal Evelyn Welch, who issued a formal apology on behalf of King’s College London which was sent out by email to all students and staff. Here are the key findings from the report.

 

DETAILED COURSE OF EVENTS

On 4th March, the Israel Society reissued multiple tickets for an event featuring the former Colonel of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Eli Bar-On after concerns were raised about disruption of the event by certain ticket holders.

The report revealed that many tickets were reissued exclusively to invited members of the society, further fuelling the protest that was set to take place outside the Macadam building, the location where the event was being hosted.

The protesters used force to prevent ticket holders from entering the building by forming human shields around the Macadam entrance, however this was largely ineffective and the event continued without disruption.

On 8th March in light of this recent protest, the Director of Estates Nick O’Donnell presented the idea of targeting individuals “be that by ID checks, CCTV or other video footage” in an official team email to prevent further disruption of events during what he called “the season of unrest”.

Email from Director of Estates & Facilities Nick O’Donnell proposing the use of CCTV to identify students.

The email was sent as part of preparation for a number of other high profile protests that were due to take place that month, including Israel Apartheid Week, the Climate Strike and the Royal visit. 

On 19th March, a request was made by the Metropolitan Police for names and groups of students envisaging a potential protest, and a list of societies was compiled to help in the targeting of student protesters who might “disrupt” the royal visit.

The societies mentioned included KCL Cut the Rent, KCL Intersectional Feminist Society, KCL Climate Strike, KCL Justice For Cleaners and KCL Action Palestine society.

A more detailed list of 16 students and one member of staff was created internally using CCTV footage around the Macadam building from the protest on March 4th of the Israel Society event, which was compiled originally for disciplinary action. 

The report also revealed that at least one person on this list was wrongly identified (namely the member of staff).

Following the compilation of the list, the Metropolitan Police asked if it would be possible to temporarily restrict access of these individuals to the Bush House auditorium, 4th floor, 8th floor, Entry Level, Exit Level and East Courtyard.

Despite the Director of Students & Education’s concerns about these restrictions to student access, apprehensions were quashed by the Director of Campus Operations who referred to the police request.

The King’s staff responsible seemingly interpreted the barring of student access as a formal request from the Metropolitan Police and proceeded with it as an “instruction”. 

Below are a number of the emails revealed in the report exposing the correspondence between the security team at King’s and the Metropolitan Police:

 

Despite an email from the Director of Campus Operations suggesting the idea of restricting ID card access exclusively to Bush House, the report found that it was in fact not possible to block access to only one building, due to time constraints.

The Gallagher (security card) log shows that the effect of this refusal of access led to the individuals in question being unable to enter various King’s buildings, including a student accommodation.

 

FINDINGS FROM THE REPORT

Security staff said that there was an expectation of them to make fine judgements between disruptive behaviour that counts as protest and behaviour that crosses the line, whilst also often being unable to differentiate students from external members of the public. 

Staff also reported incidents of “abuse and harassment from students”, underlining the lack of safeguards to maintain their safety and dignity in the workplace.

The report also found that the decisions of CIS Security, Estates & Security and Campus Operations were at various stages both legally questionable and morally wrong.

An outright lack of contingency plans and coordination between the groups was also made apparent, with the report citing “insufficient oversight or appropriate senior leadership […] and no overall coordination (with KCLSU)”.

The staff subsequently revealed that despite a history of popular politically motivated events at King’s, there were “no appropriate mechanisms, support or training in place” to handle them.

The report concluded that while the creation of the list as a means in a disciplinary process was in compliance with the King’s Data Protection Policy, the identification of certain societies and members as potentially disruptive “was a breach” of that policy and it was likely that “some of the information included would breach article 9 of the General Data Protection Registry (GDPR)”.

Chief Investigator Gibbs concluded that releasing student information to the police when there was no evidence of criminal activity or internal disciplinary findings represented “a significant breach of trust and a failure to protect the well-being and future prospects of King’s students” and that fundamentally “no consideration was given to the potential impact on students”.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS MADE BY THE REPORT

The review ends with a number of recommended actions for the university to prevent a repetition of the wrongdoings of that day:

  • ensure that the breaches in data policy are reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO);
  • implement more adequate support mechanisms and training for front line staff;
  • build on the “excellent work done to promote freedom of expression”;
  • have a wider conversation about the nature of security at the university among the wider student community;
  • limit the number of high-risk events held yearly at the university;
  • collaborate with the KCLSU more and review the policy for room bookings with external speakers;
  • make such events open to all King’s students and ensure “appropriate” chairing.

While it is clear that many of these recommendations are important for the university to move on from this incident, it remains to be seen how King’s itself will go about to practically make these changes.

 

AFTERMATH AND RESPONSE

Following the release of the report, KCL Action Palestine and KCL Justice for cleaners, two of the groups named in the report, issued statements detailing their concerns with the report.

In their statements, the groups claim that “legally and morally, these events demonstrate that KCL management is not able to run a university” and that while the report described “events accurately in many regards, it failed to address the racial and political profiling that occurred”.

They also published several demands, including “the desecuritisation of all aspects of KCL”, “a complete restructure of KCL, to bring power to the workers and students who are systematically mistreated by incompetent, profiteering management” and “personal compensation for everyone targeted by the immoral, illegal actions of KCL management”.

The two societies go on to threaten the university with “legal action” if it refuses to comply in a statement that was later supported and shared by KCL Intersectional Feminist society.

KCL Climate Strike and KCL Cut the Rent have yet to make a formal comment on the report.

In addition, many King’s students turned to social media to express their frustration at the wrongdoings that had been uncovered:

The KCLSU, represented by the student officers, also released a statement, saying that they were “disgusted and disappointed by the actions taken by staff members” and were “deeply concerned by the revelation that the University can effectively track the locations of students via access gate records”.

They said that they remained “firm in [their] unequivocal condemnation of surveillance by the college, in any form and for any reason, no matter what the purported justification is: this is a place of learning, not a police state”.

The officers also demanded that the university guidance on protests be “scrapped, effective immediately” as it was created with “no consultation or input from the KCLSU in any way”.

They go onto clarify that they would refuse to “to consider how to repair the damage caused by these events” in a “spirit of healing” as recommended by the report because of “the severe violations of students’ rights and the scale of surveillance that this report has uncovered”.

Instead the student officers demanded “consequences” and insisted that “any other staff member found to have misled or lied to students in the aftermath of the Queen’s visit incident should be dealt with severely and potentially removed from their post”.

The full KCLSU statement can be read here.

Simon Moos, the President of the KCL Israel Society, has commented exclusively for Roar: “How do you handle students who consistently breach the law? Do you fire them, or do you owe them a public apology?

“The same students who have continuously infringed free-speech, disrupted academic events and assaulted students for years now pose as the victims.

“Once again, the oppressors become the oppressed and our university must atone their crimes.

“Such a Kafkaesque scenario can only take place in an institution devoid of logic and moral courage.”

Keval Nathwani, the editor of the King’s College London Conservative Associations’s 1828 Journal, has also reached out to Roar with a comment, stating that the report reveals “the sheer and unambiguous neglect of King’s students and staff by the university that injures us all”.

“For those looking for a detailed proposal providing a copious array of solutions that ensure a similar occurrence is not repeated, they will not find any [in this report]”.

He concludes by “welcoming this report as an honest, self-critical and focused assessment of the areas where reform is needed in the relationship between the Security team and the wider King’s community” despite it being “a very sad report to read”.

 

ANALYSIS

The report, expected to be quite a bombshell, was certainly a breath of fresh air compared to the nonchalance of the statement made by King’s in March and the noisy street protest that took place the day after the incident.

It is goes straight to the point and covers a lot of the necessary ground from some interesting perspectives, but it still leaves a taste of institutional bias.

Extensive email and interview evidence is used to paint a very clear image of the chain of events, and the underlying problems in the preparation made for events similar to the Royal visit and in the relationship between CIS Security and King’s College London have been completely exposed.

Yet the report, written by the COO of Queen Mary University, often brushes aside accusations of political profiling, either choosing to ignore them or forgetting what was considered the most important allegation from students protesting in the aftermath.

It also outright questions the independence of KCLSU, calling for the Union to revisit its committee approach and room bookings method, rather than encouraging them to proactively cooperate with the University by offering advice.

Fundamentally, while the review was necessary for further action to be taken and for all to understand the situation, it seems incomplete and its recommendations too generic.

 

The full report can be read here.

 

CORRECTION: In the printed version of this article, News Editor Isabella Anderson has not been credited. Roar would like to make clear that she deserves recognition for her contribution to the article. 

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