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University faces criticism after member of occupation security assaults protester

ByJacob Close

May 22, 2015

The continuing occupation over the University of Edinburgh’s divestment policy took another turn on Thursday morning, with video footage emerging of a member of security physically assaulting a protester.

Witnesses have said the incident occurred during the formation of a human chain in front of the Charles Stewart House entrance. When one security contractor was blocked, he reportedly grabbed one protester by the jumper and pushed him aside, saying he was “going in one way or another”.  Liam Rees, who witnessed the assault, then said that another protester, Nate Abbots, refused to move.

The security contractor proceeded to throw Abbots to the floor and pin them down by the neck, despite being informed that he was being filmed. He was then removed by other members of security.

Watch: Raw footage of Thursday’s incident between a University-employed security contractor and protester Nate Abbots:

Speaking to The Student, Abbots said they were “panicked and in disbelief”, stating they had no idea that security would take matters that far. They added that they hoped the University will condemn the heavy-handed use of unprovoked force, and respect the student’s right to peaceful protest.

Despite the assault, protesters praised the actions of the other members of the security team. In comments to The Student, Rees stated that the other outside security companies aided in stopping the attack. Others at the scene also said that most of the contracted security, who had been there since the protest started several days ago, had been “good”, and respected requests not to physically move or touch protesters.

University of Edinburgh security was also praised in a similar manner, and protesters were keen to stress that the violence appeared to be affiliated with an isolated group which had only recently been brought in. Security contractors at the scene were unable to give comment.

Speaking to the Guardian, protester Eric Lai said: “We have been repeatedly told that the university supports our right to protest, but that couldn’t feel further from the truth.”

“The university have posted dozens of guards to the doors, and have now taken to intimidation and violence to shut us up. It is hard to imagine a more inappropriate way to handle student protest.”

Thursday’s incident follows on from previous criticism made by the protesters about the conduct of the new security team hired by the University to manage the occupation. A message posted on the Facebook page of People and Planet Edinburgh – the organisers of the occupation – claimed that members of the security staff told protesters to ‘sleep with one eye open’, as well as ‘harassing’ women walking past the occupation late at night.

Responding to the incident, an Edinburgh University spokesman said:  “The University is aware of, and deeply regrets, the unfortunate incident that is currently being played on social media. The matter is now in the hands of the police.

“We continue to support the right of students to peacefully and lawfully demonstrate and the University is using private security outside its buildings in Chambers Street in order to secure the safety of staff and students during the occupation.”

“We are constantly reviewing our security arrangements to make sure that they are appropriate to the circumstances in what is an evolving situation.”

The Student contacted two private security firms rumoured to be involved in the security around the Charles Stewart occupation, but received no comment at time of writing.

Featured image: People & Planet Edinburgh

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