Chalking trial: academics attack ‘vindictive’ University of London in open letter

Academics have criticised UoL over the conviction of Ms K Duff, pictured during her arrest on 16 July. Photo: Hubert Libiszewski

Academics have criticised UoL over the conviction of Ms K Duff, pictured during her arrest on 16 July. Photo: Hubert Libiszewski

• Ms K Duff convicted of criminal damage for chalking on UoL foundation stone

• Academics accuse UoL of an “attempt to suppress campus protest”

Academics have attacked the University of London (UoL) over the criminal damage conviction of a student who wrote protest slogans in chalk on the university’s property.

In an open letter sent to UoL yesterday, 54 academics and teaching staff accused the university of “aggressively prosecuting” Ms K Duff, 25, who was arrested on 16 July last year for chalking “sick pay, holidays, pensions now” and “support the cleaners’ struggle” on its foundation stone.

They described UoL’s actions as a “needlessly vindictive and wholly disproportionate attempt to suppress campus protest and intimidate any who might consider engaging in it.”

The academics, mostly from UoL colleges, added it was “not at all in keeping with anyone’s ideal of how a world-famous institution of higher education ought to act”.

Duff, a member of the 3Cosas campaign which supports outsourced UoL staff, was ordered to pay £810 towards the costs of repairing the stone last month.

The letter suggests the stone could have been cleaned more cheaply: “Enclosed with this letter is a packet of six cellulose sponge washcloths. Next time someone writes something in chalk on your building, simply fold the cloth two or three times, wet it thoroughly under warm, clean water, and wring it out.”

“Applied in gentle circular motions to the affected area, you’ll find it wonderfully efficient in removing unwanted chalk marks, leaving the material beneath clean and fresh.”

Speaking to Times Higher Education, a UoL spokesperson defended the cost of repairing the stone, saying “the graffiti on the foundation stone required high-pressure hydrocleaning” and adding that this “resulted in the removal of the gold lettering, which needed to be replaced”.

The spokesperson also insisted that “the university did not press charges against the individual”.

However, during Duff’s trial sergeant Liam Suter told the court that Paul Nicholson-Lewis, UoL’s director of property at the time of the incident, was “very keen to press charges”.

Last month Duff was also cleared of assaulting two police officers while she was being arrested. Video footage had contradicted two officers’ testimony during the trial.

Read more:
Chalking trial: student cleared of police assaults but found guilty of criminal damage
Chalking trial: video contradicts second police account
Chalking trial: police officer falsely claimed to witness assault, court hears
Chalking trial adjourned after key CCTV footage not given to defence

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