A STUDENTS’ union president has apologised after his officers appeared to suggest in a letter that a debate featuring two BNP politicians could lead to violence.
Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said the letter was unacceptable, utterly ridiculous and those responsible had been asked to account for their actions.
Mr Streeting was speaking at a meeting of the Durham Union Society (DUS), in the debating chamber, in Palace Green, Durham, last night.
He planned the forum after thousands of students joined an internet campaign protesting against the cancellation of DUS’ multiculturalism debate, planned for Friday.
Durham University Students for Freedom of Speech are furious at the letter sent to the DUS, Durham Students’ Union and Durham University by Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, the NUS’ black students officer, and Daf Adley, the NUS’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender officer.
The letter warned of a “colossal demonstration” if the debate went ahead, with coach loads of students being bussed into Durham.
“If any students are hurt in and around this event, responsibility will lie with you,” they wrote.
Shortly afterwards, the DUS called off the debate on safety grounds.
About 300 students attended last night’s meeting. There were BNP members and police outside. Mr Streeting was verbally abused as he arrived but the event passed peacefully.
Paul Nicholls, from Durham University Students for Freedom of Speech, accused the NUS of bullying.
Mr Streeting said the NUS did not want the BNP to have a platform on university campuses.
But he added: “Had I seen that statement (the letter) before, I would not have left the building. It was an appalling error and ultimately self-defeating.”
He admitted that students were “massively, monumentally” upset at the NUS.
Friday’s debate had been due to feature Kulveer Ranger, an advisor to Boris Johnson, Conservative MP Edward Leigh, BNP MEP Andrew Brons and Chris Beverley, a BNP councillor in Leeds.
Unite Against Fascism had vowed the prevent the debate going ahead.
The BNP said its cancellation meant the enemies of free speech had won the day.
University registrar Carolyn Fowler said: “The university supports the right to freedom of expression on campus in line with its code of practice and we respect the decision of our students to demonstrate peacefully.”