Bristol Uni ends negotiations with Wills occupiers at eleventh-hour because students wore balaclavas

Occupiers were set to leave this morning before being told they had committed ‘arguably violent acts’

Bristol Uni has ended its negotiations with the Wills Memorial occupiers because they wore balaclavas last week and caused distress to cleaning staff when they took the Great Hall.

The group of 12 students were ready to end their occupation this morning after a week-long negotiation with university management.

Bristol Uni described the action of the students when entering the building as “unacceptable” and that they will now follow their “usual processes when unacceptable behaviour is reported”.

The occupiers confirmed to The Bristol Tab they are yet to receive an apology from the university for what they claim was initial “aggressive” handling by building security who “told us to f**k off” and “chased us into the Great Hall”.

In an updated statement this evening, the university said it “remains committed to not taking action in relation to peaceful protest.”

Bristol Uni further climbed down, saying: “There may have been unacceptable behaviour and, if further action is required in this case, we will follow our acceptable behaviour policy”.


In the past seven days, university management has had multiple meetings with the student occupiers which the occupiers described as “cooperative and amicable”.

An agreement was reached on Saturday between the occupiers and university management. They agreed:

  • No disciplinary action for unauthorised occupation of the university premises, as long as it is peaceful
  • University management would clarify the terms under which Action Short of Strike would result in pay cuts
  • University management would spread strike day pay losses over a maximum of five days per month for current and future UCU industrial action this year

This agreement did not solve the ongoing issue between the UCU and the university over a 35 per cent cut to pensions for university staff.

The occupiers described the the concessions as “minimal” but agreed to leave the building this morning when the concessions were set to be formalised.

The occupiers had their bags packed ready to leave this morning before Bristol Uni’s U-turn

Rather than receive confirmation however, instead the occupiers woke up to an email accusing them of “arguably violent acts” when they entered the building last Monday and that the university would be “rescinding all concessions”.

In a statement, the students said the claim had not been substantiated with any evidence.

“Occupiers took care to be conscientious and non-violent, talking to the estates team upon entry and informing them calmly and peacefully of our exact actions,” they said.

“Estates and cleaning staff were informed that they could leave the building at any point and were advised on how to do so. When the Great Hall was occupied, no staff were inside.

“No occupiers have any recollection of any violent acts nor any threats of such behaviour.”

Despite their use to protect the students’ identities, the university has described the action of wearing balaclavas and distressing cleaning staff as ‘unacceptable’

Whilst the group conceded that management had raised the distress  felt by one member of the cleaning staff during meetings, management had accepted the occupiers apology and promised to relay this to the member of staff.

‘This decision doesn’t make sense and seems extremely unproductive’

Billie*, one of the students inside the Great Hall currently, described the university’s email to them as “shocking and disappointing”.

They told The Bristol Tab: “We walked into the building and peacefully announced the occupation.”

Whilst they refused to speculate on the university’s motivation behind the U-turn, they said the decision “doesn’t make sense to us and seems extremely unproductive”.

Whilst university management did agree to provide the students with access to toilets and running water as well as allow food into the occupation, supporters on the outside have struggled throughout the week to provide other essentials to the students.

The occupiers say it took until Thursday 3rd March, the fourth day of the occupation before menstrual hygiene products were allowed inside.

They also allege one of the female occupiers was filmed by security using a mobile phone while partially undressed on Saturday 5th March.

Billie* stressed that while individual members of security have acted inappropriately, the occupiers want to direct their anger at university management who they believe by “reneging on the agreement”, have shown a “lack of compassion and makes clear the university’s union-busting intentions”.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “We have asked the students currently occupying the Great Hall to leave at their earliest convenience in a peaceful and considerate fashion.

“Disappointingly, it has been brought to our attention by several members of staff that their behaviour, particularly when taking the Great Hall last week, was intimidatory with students entering the building wearing balaclavas and causing distress to our cleaning staff. This is unacceptable.

“We appreciate that the occupation was in solidarity with staff taking industrial action. However, we cannot condone this and will now follow our usual processes where unacceptable behaviour is reported.

“In terms of their demands, we have been able to explain that we have previously communicated to staff that deductions will be taken across multiple payslips. This has always been our approach for staff taking industrial action. These will be taken from March and April’s pay and staff have been made aware of this.”

In an updated statement a University of Bristol spokesperson said: “Contrary to statements from the occupiers, the University remains committed to not taking action in relation to peaceful protest.

“We also always support the right of members of our university community to work in a safe and caring environment.  We have received additional information today that suggests there may have been unacceptable behaviour and, if further action is required in this case, we will follow our acceptable behaviour policy.

“Our position on spreading strike deductions across two months, as has always been our approach and agreed with our UCU branch, remains unchanged.”

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