King’s sorry for blocking students from campus during royal visit

Independent review finds college's actions breached data protection law, as well as going against its own values

July 4, 2019

King’s College London has apologised for blocking from its campus 13 students and one staff member during a visit by the Queen as it suspected them of being part of previous protests, saying those actions were “wrong and did not meet our values”.

Evelyn Welch, acting principal of King’s, issued the statement after an independent review found that the institution breached data protection laws and institutional data regulations in passing the students’ names to the police, as well as in withdrawing their card access to university premises. Passing students’ names to the police when there was “neither evidence of criminal activity nor any internal disciplinary findings” was also a “significant breach of trust” and a “failure to protect the well-being and future prospects of King’s students”, while blocking their access to college buildings was “disproportionate and against King’s stated values”, the review says.

The review recommends that the data breaches “should be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office with immediate effect”, and that an apology should be issued to the students and staff member.

The review, written by Laura Gibbs, concludes that the King’s security team “and sections of the estates and facilities team”, while “under considerable strain and against the backdrop of balancing the right to freedom of expression against maintaining a safe campus, have overstepped the boundaries of their authority and in doing so have lost overall sight of their role in protecting the students and staff of King’s”.

The review also says: “Freedom of speech and protest are closely linked, free speech would mean nothing if there was no right to make your views known.”

Professor Welch writes in a statement which precedes the report that the document “has been uncomfortable to read”.

The report “makes it clear that the actions we took with respect to our students were wrong and did not meet our values,” she adds. “We accept its findings and recommendations in full and are putting in place a plan to address all the issues that have been raised.”

The review relates to events leading up to 19 March, when the Queen visited King’s for the official opening of its Bush House building in central London.

The report explains that the students involved in the incident were suspected of being part of a protest outside an Israel Society event on 4 March, with a list of student names compiled “based on identification of students from photographic and CCTV evidence against time stamped gate access records to buildings”.

At least one name on the list, the staff member, “was wrongly identified”, says the report.

Ahead of the opening of Bush House, the King’s head of security, understood to be no longer working at the college, “wrote to his contacts at the Metropolitan Police alerting them to the fact he had received unconfirmed reports that students may make a disruptive protest on the day of the royal visit”, says the report.

The head of security told the police that the students belong to the King’s student union’s Intersectional Feminist Society and attached a document listing the “main protesters”, the report says.

The students and staff member had their card access to college buildings revoked for the day of the visit. One student reported being worried he would miss an exam as a result, while another said she ended up being late for an assessed presentation and had to “beg to the point of tears to be let in”, the report says.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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