Suspended Birmingham protester attacks uni ‘bullies’

Simon Furse suspended for nine months despite hearing panel admitting he wasn’t present at protest

A Birmingham student protester has accused the uni of waging a campaign of bullying after he was suspended for nine months.

Simone Furse and his friend Kelly Rogers were singled out for the ban as a punishment for joining a student occupation last year – even though 200 others were involved.

Now 22-year-old Simon has branded the university “bullies” and accused them of handling the case in an “incredibly aggressive way” after an internal hearing.

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He told The Tab: “The university doesn’t like having protests against it, it’s trying to stop protests happen by scaring people, but rather than just come out and say “we’re going to fuck these people over” they make up some bullshit quasi-legal process.

“They pretend it’s fair and people are being judged at sanctions, but really it’s just about the fact they don’t like the protests happening and they’re just trying to get people.”

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The pair have been suspended for their part in an eight day occupation of the Great Hall on campus in November. Another student, Hattie Craig, was handed a suspended sentence for six months at a uni hearing.

The sit-in was organised by anti-cuts group Defend Education, who had published a list of ten demands for the uni.

The guilty verdict left Simon shocked, especially as he was delivering food and wasn’t even part of the actual occupation.

Simon, who studied Politics and Economics, said: “There’s a video from outside the Great Hall in which you can see me talking to a group of people around me saying ‘It’s okay, you can go into the occupation, the injunctions not in force yet’ and the university decided that’s a crime worth giving a nine month suspension for.

“I was helping it by delivering food, by organising demonstrations outside etc. And it was basically the opinion of the panel that just by helping the occupation to happen – even if you weren’t personally in it – that is therefore grounds to suspend someone.”

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In a bid to stop the occupation Birmingham University went to court to get an injunction and put two students’ names – Simon and Hattie Craig – on it. Simon said he has “no idea how we were singled out”.

He added: “I have no idea how the university chose the two people they wanted to intimidate. I guess one reason is that both me and Hattie have been sabbatical officers in the student union […] so I guess we’re well known to university management.”

‘It felt like blackmail’

And in an extra blow, the court warned Simon and Hattie they would have to pay the £25,000 of court fees if they didn’t accept the injunction.

He said: “We were told by the university that we would potentially be facing court costs of up to £25,000. When we got to the court hearing we were told by the university that they wouldn’t sweep the cost order if we didn’t accept the injunction. So basically they were using the threat of the money to force us into accepting the injunction in the courts.”

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Now Simon says he feels they were blackmailed by the university, but he says this is part of the university’s “heavy handed tactics” in a bid to stop protesting on campus.

The trial was thrown out in April, but the university dragged their heels over their own disciplinary hearing, with Simon, Hattie and Kelly’s case only being heard at the end of June.

He said: “Again, that was an incredibly difficult time because I was meant to be doing my uni work, catching up from my previous suspension, and Kelly was in the same position.”

“That was quite hard to deal with not knowing what the fuck was going on, not knowing how I was going to plan for my life, not knowing whether or not I should be applying for jobs, that was really hard.”

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Earlier, Simon and Kelly were suspended for participating in another protest in January in which over 100 students were kettled by the police, and thirteen arrested for refusing to give their names.

They were reinstated after a campaign from staff and students alike in which thousands signed a petition, including thirteen MPs.

Simon recalled: “We got over 200 staff to support us when they knew they’d be putting their jobs on the line, their careers on the line, getting the management displeased with them – it shows the level of support among staff. I suspect it will be similar this time.”

And he claimed staff supported Defend Education because they feel the uni treats staff badly, as well as students.

He said: “They deal with stuff in an incredibly aggressive way. They try and have complete power over the way the university is run and attack anyone who says anything different.

“They’re not interested in listening to what people have to say, not interested in working with staff and students at all.”

In a statement to the Tab, Birmingham University said: “Universities are places of free speech and we respect the rights of students and staff to protest peacefully and within the law.

“Indeed, the University helps to facilitate a number of safe and lawful protests and demonstrations on campus each year, addressing a wide range of issues. Participation in a protest is not a disciplinary offence and the University does not invoke disciplinary procedures lightly.

“However, following the events that occurred in November 2013, significant disruption was caused to students and staff: nearly 900 students had their teaching and learning disrupted or displaced, members of staff were prevented from attending their place of work for a week, and disabled and fire access routes were blocked.

“The University has a duty of care to its staff and student community and will not tolerate behaviour that causes harm to individuals, damage to property or significant disruption to our university community.

“We have therefore taken robust action to uphold our responsibilities in this regard.”

The University refused to comment on matters relating to Simon’s case in particular.

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