Bristol students say security have hit them and burst into flats, in explosive report

‘I have been hit in the head by a security guard who refused to give me his name’

First year students from across Bristol Uni have alleged that security staff have shoved and hit students, burst into flats without warning or face coverings, blocked access to buildings, lifts, and flats, and filmed students without permission, with students labelling the behaviour “aggressive”, “condescending”, and “scary”.

These are just some of the accusations made by Bristol students about Security Services during the pandemic in an explosive SU report obtained by The Bristol Tab.

The 40 allegations obtained by The Bristol Tab allege a pattern of misconduct in Stoke Bishop, Clifton, and the City Centre, with students describing security staff operating in their residences as “degrading”, “threatening”, and “intimidating”.

A student in Hiatt Baker alleges that they were hit in the head by a security staff member, who refused to give their name when asked by the student, presumably for the purposes of filing a complaint.

Another complaint from a student in Hiatt Baker hall says that security were “very aggressive and have pushed students while screaming at them to get inside unless they are smoking”.

Bristol University says it has received only one official complaint since the start of the academic year, and is “extremely concerned” with the allegations presented by The Bristol Tab. However, senior staff at the university have had this document for over a week, according to Bristol SU’s Ruth Day.

Students in University Hall and Hiatt Baker Hall in Stoke Bishop allege that they have been filmed by security staff while outdoors, and yet have no idea why, or where the footage is stored and what it is used for (Bristol University did not respond to questions about filming).

A student in Manor Hall in Clifton said that their flat was “dancing in our kitchen, listening to music and we open the window to a security guard flashing his torch at us.” They say that some of the flat members went to speak to the staff member to explain that they lived together, but “he said he didn’t care”, alleging that the security staff member said: “If I find more than six of you in that kitchen, I’ll make sure you’ll all get a £250 fine.” The students were allegedly reported to the university for being “mouthy and swearing”, a characterisation they deny.

Students in halls across the university allege that security routinely enters flats without knocking (which they are technically permitted to do), with many saying that staff do not social distance, and nor do they wear face coverings as required indoors.

Many allegations state that security staff do not understand that many in halls are in living circles of up to 15 students, which results in them entering flats falsely accusing students of breaking Covid rules.

A student in Manor Hall said: “They film us without our permission, they storm into our flat when we’re sleeping, they threaten us with fines even when we’re just hanging out in our living circles.”

Other students in Manor Hall describe staff as “rude”, “standoffish”, “aggressive”, and “forceful”, with one adding that staff “shout at us and refused to reason with us.”

Almost all complaints describe very negative interactions, with students describing staff as “aggressive”, “rude”, “incompetent”, “degrading”, and “threatening”. Some questioned the training staff receive, saying they do not seem competent at de-escalation.

Students are demanding transparency regarding the powers of security staff, however the university did not respond to questions from The Bristol Tab on whether staff were permitted to block access to buildings, be indoors without face coverings, not identify themselves, film students, and nor did they say what happens to that footage. They also did not comment on the powers of external security staff.

The allegations were gathered by Bristol SU. Ruth Day, Student Living Officer, created a Google Form that was distributed to first year students in halls with the help of activist group Cut The Rent. One of the key demands of the rent strike is transparency regarding the powers of security services.

The Bristol Tab asked the university: “What precisely are the powers of security services?” They did not provide an answer, and nor did they provide a response to any of the specific allegations presented to them.

Ruth Day says the university has had the list of allegations for over a week, and it is “moving through the uni channels”. She said that both the ResiLife leadership, and Paula Coonerty (Executive Director for Education and Student Experience) have seen the list of allegations, and that a meeting took place on Monday with Security Services.

Day added that the university is working on publicising the Student Complaints Procedure, as well a webpage with what is expected of students and security staff.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “Our Security Services team is here to keep all students and staff safe across our campuses and residences 24/7 – 365 days a year.

“Since the start of the pandemic this has never been more important, and the team have been working incredibly hard in what are sometimes very difficult and challenging circumstances.

“So far this term, we have received one complaint from a student about the conduct of Security Services. Those circumstances do not reflect any of the allegations presented here and were quickly resolved.

“We take all complaints seriously and will always investigate and follow up if required. We are therefore extremely concerned to hear about these alleged incidents and encourage the complainants to get in touch as a matter of urgency so we can investigate using the Student Complaints Procedure.

“We have been clear about the behaviours we expect from our community during this time. Security services play an important role in ensuring students adhere to these expectations and follow our COVID-19 safety measures and Government regulations.

“The vast majority of our students have behaved impeccably since they returned to campus and have followed the rules around social-distancing and keeping to their living circles, but there have been a number of incidents that have required support from Security Services when concerns around safety or behaviours have been raised by other students or the local community.

“In these circumstances, Security will attend and will always try to engage, explain and encourage students to follow our rules and regulations before any further action is taken. They do have the authority to enter accommodation if necessary, but they are not permitted to enter bedrooms unless there is a threat to the occupant’s well-being or a suspicion of criminality.

“If necessary, Security will work with colleagues from Residential Life to impose fines for breaches under student disciplinary regulations. Students can appeal against these penalties and complain about any aspect of university life by using the Student Complaints Procedure.

“It is important to note that residences operated by third party partners provide their own security.”

Students can file complaints to the University here, and Bristol SU’s Just Ask service is available to support students in the process.

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