Colonel hits out at ‘howling mob’ of student protesters who disrupted university talk

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Colonel Richard Kemp - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Colonel Richard Kemp - Stefan Rousseau/PA

Students should not be allowed to be bullied or intimidated for attending events with external speakers, Colonel Richard Kemp has said.

The former head of British forces in Afghanistan said he was also concerned at the treatment of students at his talk at the University of Essex this week.

He described how a group of pro-Palestinian activists, who objected to his support for Israel, gathered outside the building where he spoke on Tuesday evening.

A spokesman for the University of Essex said 'any such intimidating behaviour would be wholly unacceptable' - Robert Estall Photo Agency/Alamy stock photo
A spokesman for the University of Essex said 'any such intimidating behaviour would be wholly unacceptable' - Robert Estall Photo Agency/Alamy stock photo

"There was a group of around 60 protesters outside the building where the event took place,” Col Kemp explained.

“They were chanting and shouting and objecting. Obviously they have the right to protest, but I think the presence of a howling mob outside the building would certainly have deterred some students from going in.

“After the event, I was told that some students were followed by some of the [protesting] students. They continued shouting and yelling probably for a good 10 to 15 minutes after the event ended.

“For groups of them to follow some students after they left the building is obviously an intimidation tactic, this is even more concerning.”

‘Intrusive conditions’ imposed on speakers

After being invited by the university’s Conservative Society to talk about Afghanistan, Col Kemp was told that his talk had been “approved with conditions”.

This included his talk being recorded, a student union officer being present in the room throughout and an impartial chairman overseeing the event.

“They stipulated that the event had to be recorded - that was one of the most intrusive conditions," he said. "It suggests Big Brother is watching, if you say a word that isn’t politically correct it will be held against you.

“They also had a member of the student union present in the event to keep an eye on things and to make sure I didn’t say anything I shouldn't. It’s a message that they want to send to speakers that you are being watched.”

Col Kemp said that he had given many talks at universities in recent years, and that he believed the atmosphere on campus was "deteriorating".

“I have spoken at universities around the UK, the US and Australia and I have never, ever had these kinds of impositions imposed on me anywhere," he said.

A spokesman for the University of Essex said: "We have had no reports of attendees being followed but we are contacting everyone who attended as part of our investigation and will follow up any report we receive. Any such intimidating behaviour would be wholly unacceptable."

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