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Banned speaker joins panel to speak at Bristol free speech event

The speaker was originally banned due to security concerns

Last night, Bristol's Free Speech Society defied Bristol University's SU orders by hosting a controversial "gender-critical" speaker at an event on campus, ending a three-day long roller-coaster ride of a culture war.

Having blamed Bristol SU for "cancelling the attendance" of Angelos Sofocleous on Monday for unspecified "security reasons", the society called Sofocleous (who was in attendance) up from the audience at Wednesday's event to join the panel discussing free speech on campus.

Why was there a row?

Tension broke out between the Society and Sofocleous on Monday, with Sofocleous complaining that the "authoritarian" SU had "de-platformed" him by denying him permission to join the panel discussion.

Taking to Twitter, he said: "The question the panel would raise is “Is there a problem with free speech on campus?”
Bristol SU has answered this question loud and clear".

Sofocleous was sacked from two editorial roles at University publications in Durham last year after he expressed controversial views on issues of trans-genderism.

However, Sofocleous also told the Bristol Tab that the comments in question, specifically his retweet of an article claiming that "women don't have penises", would not be used to promote the event.

"The SU wasn't satisfied and then proceeded to demand me being disinvited as a speaker", he added.

Was he banned?

However, it later emerged that, rather than banning Sofocleous from attending, the SU had asked for a delay to allow enough time to book in security for the event.

This follows the events of when Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was involved in scuffles during at talk at UWE last year. As a result, Bristol's Tory Society were slapped with a £500 security bill to host the same speaker.

Regarding Mr Sofocleous, an SU spokesperson told the Tab: "Bristol SU made an initial assessment of the speaker and recommended that security would be needed to ensure this event could run safely and smoothly. "

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Photo Credit: University of Bristol Free Speech Society

"The Society was informed of this one week prior to the event with the recommendation that the event is rearranged in order to allow security measures to be put in place".

An SU official told the Tab that they "spoke with security services on Monday and they confirmed there would not be time for security to be put in place."

However, a representative of the Free Speech Soc told the Tab that: "We have a good relationship with uni security and they go out of their way to help us. They said that protection could be arranged in time."

In a heated meeting last spring, students approved a motion in favour of barring events hosting "trans-exclusionary radical feminist" speakers. However, the motion was never taken up as official SU policy, paving the way for Sofocleous to be invited this term.

So there we have it. A whole free speech debacle centred around security for an event which then went ahead safely with no security at all.

No titanic battle over sacred rights. Just a disagreement over logistics.

Cover Image Credit: University of Bristol Free Speech Society