On 30th October, Royal Holloway’s Independent Newspaper, The Founder, wrote two articles which contained some claims about myself and the SU to which I was given no chance to respond to. I’d like to set the record straight on these claims.
The first article by Rose Walker entitled ‘2013 Welcome Week Marred by SU arrests’ does contain some quotes from the SU sabbatical team about the evening in question, however, she does go on to make some false and egregious claims to which I have not been given the right of response. In one part, she alleges that during the events ‘… the deputy venue manager of the SU did give the sabbatical officers permission to use a bus, but only if the SSHH bus co-ordinator agreed to it’, and that no attempt was made to seek this permission. There are three main problems here: 1. There is no staff member with the role of ‘SSHH bus co-ordinator’ - perhaps if Ms Walker had done her research, she would have realised there is a staff member responsible for this service, but their title is ‘Membership Services Co-ordinator’. This brings me to point 2: Following the incident, it became apparent that this would be the procedure; however, I was not aware of this at the time and there was no caveat to using the bus as Rose suggests. Following the incident, the matter was discussed and resolved with this particular member of staff. Thirdly, as already mentioned, Ms Walker failed to ask for a response to the claim, which is a basic rule of ethical journalism.
A more shocking set of perfunctory and ill-researched claims comes from the Founder’s ‘Managing Director’ Peter Hammond who, in his article ‘Discrepancies at the Students’ Union’, failed to ask us why we only reported one arrest on the evening in question at the General Meeting (when there were 2), alleges nepotism from myself toward one of the people who was arrested and, without stating a source, claims that I stopped the publishing of The Orbital because it contained an article mentioning me. Let me take these claims in order:
1. If Mr Hammond were to go through the press releases on the matter chronologically, he would see that not even the college were aware of a second arrest; these became clear on Wednesday. We reported what we knew at the time, and updated it when we knew more – this was fairly transparent.
2. Because of this, the second person wasn’t visited by sabbatical team members at the police station. The police would not share at the time if there had been any arrests. Again, there’s a simple logic to this.
3. I am yet to see any article mentioning myself and the events of this evening from the Orbital, though when it was murmured that such an article might exist, I said I would surrender my rights as Executive Editor to libel check and sign-off on the publication because of a potential conflict of interest. I said I would pass them to the President or, if need be, the SURHUL trustee board – it is procedure that a SU trustee checks it. Because this was only brought to my attention on a Friday, this meant there could be a potential delay in going to print on the following Monday, and I imagine this was the reason the editor decided to pull the article – I don’t think I can be held responsible for timing of this.
Mr Hammond’s claim that I would censor the SU’s publication is a pretty big one, yet he felt no need to back it up with proof or even offer me a chance to respond. I’m happy for campus publications to hold me to account as an officer and I’ve always been honest about this. I’m an officer who writes regular blogs about my activity, makes sure all my areas of work are ones mandated by students and I’ve never stopped criticisms of myself from being printed in the past. In fact, passing the libel checking duties to another officer/SURHUL official and admitting my conflict of interest was another way in which I was trying to be transparent and accountable.
When it comes to the incidents of 27th September the point is clear: If you believe in student leadership and democratic SUs, there’s always going to bumps in the roads, and myself and Sidonie have admitted that we did the best we could, but it could be argued we didn’t totally get everything right. I am a human after all. For the record, I stand by the principle of going to the police station to see if I could help the arrested person, particularly amidst allegations they had intervened in racial profiling– I would do this for any student in that position.
Lastly, I find these articles somewhat odd in that the story (which depicts events that happened over a month ago) had already been covered by the London Student, who have even published another edition since then. The articles in question are a little out-of-date, and I’d personally wonder why any publication would even bother printing them.
Yes, this wasn’t the perfect situation and yes, people think it wasn’t dealt with ideally, but this shouldn’t overshadow the good stuff that been achieved so far this academic year: The SU had a terrific Welcome Week, reporting high numbers of engagement in our Fayres, and huge satisfaction with our services. We’ve begun work with the university to create a housing guarantor scheme for international students and students care-leavers who cannot get one, we’ve started engaging PhD students for the first time ever, I’ve built a proper SU communications team with student-staff involved, we’re doing well financially compared to previous years, we now have one of the best course rep systems in the country, we’re about to appoint a new CEO and we’ll soon be embarking on more work around students and mental health – something very important that we’ve lacked on before.
It’s quite clear that despite an incident in Welcome Week, the SU is going from strength to strength and the sabbatical team are achieving a lot, despite having low resources and a staff shortage at a senior level. It’s unfortunate that the Founder seemingly want to derail the SU’s great work so far with passé, non-factual stories, though I do respect their freedom of the press to do so. I think it is important that I set the record straight and I hope the editor has the courage to allow a form of reply in the next issue and to admit to the mistakes he published. Meanwhile, I’ll be working hard focusing on what is set to be another great year for SURHUL!