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UCL publishes investigation into UCLU Friends of Israel event

31 January 2017

UCL has today published the outcome of its investigation into events that took place around the UCLU Friends of Israel Society meeting on 27th October 2016. The full report can be read here.

UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur established the investigation, led by Professor Geraint Rees, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, after a number of allegations of violence and intimidation ahead of and during the meeting were received by UCL.

The investigation has concluded that this was a serious incident that represented a failure of the UCL Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech to adequately protect freedom of expression on campus. While the event took place, the report states that it did so "in a highly disruptive and intimidatory atmosphere and in an abbreviated form.

“This failure of the UCL Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech is very rare – several hundred events are routinely organised and occur every term, including high risk and high profile events – but affords an important opportunity to identify and remedy the key factors that led to this failure.”

The investigation has concluded that the majority of protestors and attendees were non-violent and that the majority of UCL students acted in accordance with UCL’s code of conduct for students. However, it did also find evidence that a smaller group of protestors intentionally disrupted the rights of others to exercise freedom of speech within the law, and that their behaviour caused stress and anxiety to students and staff at UCL. It also found that verbally hostile behaviour was not confined to protestors, with a small minority of attendees also engaging in aggressive and physically intimidatory behaviour.

The investigation understands from the police that allegations of assault made to them at the time have either been withdrawn or are not currently being pursued as a line of inquiry. The investigation found no evidence that any of these actions were planned or pre-meditated. There was also no property damage.

Recommendations

The report makes a number of recommendations that set out to strengthen the existing processes and practices to prevent future incidents of this kind, and will help ensure that UCL can continue to be a place where students and staff can both freely express controversial opinions within the law and freely express their opposition to such opinions within the law:

  • A number of UCL students should be referred to the relevant officers for consideration of disciplinary action under the UCL student disciplinary code, and UCL should develop a code of conduct for all visitors to the UCL campus;
  • A number of procedural changes designed to strengthen UCL/UCLU event management and better safeguard free speech and safe legal protest;
  • A review of the operational protocol and training for high risk events, to be conducted jointly by UCL and UCLU, with the input of UCL Security;
  • UCL should take steps to pro-actively promote racial and religious tolerance in university culture and life and consider the following actions and the report suggests a number of actions to achieve this.

Professor Michael Arthur said: “I would like to thank Professor Geraint Rees and his team for conducting the investigation and producing this report. I accept its findings and recommendations in full.

“We are a university that is clear in its support both of freedom of speech and of the right to protest. After a full investigation we have concluded that on the night of 27th October, we were not fully able to make good on our commitment to freedom of speech to Hen Mazzig, a speaker invited by the UCLU Friends of Israel.

“While I welcome the investigation’s conclusion that the majority of protestors and attendees were non-violent and that no police action is planned as a result of the evening’s events, we recognise too the finding that there was a deliberate attempt by some to disrupt the rights of others to exercise their freedom of speech.

“We will act upon the recommendations in the report, which I believe will strengthen our ability to deliver on that commitment when hosting events and speakers likely to attract protestors with opposing beliefs.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to freedom of speech for all within the law, and I intend to explore the potential for a return visit by Hen Mazzig, as a tangible sign of that commitment.”

Links

Media contact

Dominique Fourniol

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 3843
Email: d.fourniol [at] ucl.ac.uk