At the University of Edinburgh, one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Europe, and recently ranked as the 17th best university worldwide, two students were detained for six hours on Tuesday during a visit from the university’s chancellor, Princess Anne. The students, Euan Kidston and Hona-Luisa Cohen-Fuentes, had not been informed that they were in a restricted area, were allegedly assaulted by security and police officers, and were not told why they were being detained until much later. This is the latest in a string of headlines made by students at the University of Edinburgh this year, who earlier created significant controversy over the Edinburgh University Student Association’s decision to ban the popular hip-hop song ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke from playing in university buildings. This time, however, the scandal is far more serious, with the two students in question claiming to have been told by police they were “lucky not to have been shot”, and with one university official telling Cohen-Fuentes, “I hope you get deported.”
In an interview with The Libertarian that took place online this week, excerpted below, Euan Kidston reacts to the incompetence of the security staff and police, who are supposed to be serving in his best interests, and opens up about his experiences during this frightening ordeal.
Alexander: Walk me through what happened. Why were you and your friend in the building at that time?
Kidston: We’d gone to find someplace to study. We had left the chaplaincy around half-past 1:00, wandered around a few parts of Old College, and settled on an entrance at the South East corner. We wandered around a bit upstairs in view of a public event and a university secretary before settling at a seated area that overlooked the courtyard. We were there studying quite happily for over an hour.
Alexander: So, to your mind, there was nothing out of the ordinary?
Kidston: Nothing at all. It was a university building. We are students. There was no indication that that part of the building was out of bounds especially for that day. All the doors were unlocked and movement inside was fairly easy, suggesting there was nothing wrong. There was some event going on in the Playfair library which was advertised in reception, what it was I can’t remember, but Hona was speaking to some of the people organising it and they gave her a tray of food. Again, this made our presence seem quite ordinary.
Alexander: When did things first start to go wrong?
Kidston: Things started to go wrong around 3pm. I’d gone to the bathroom on the ground floor and, on my way back, I held a door open for a head janitor and a servitor at the top of a staircase. They were carrying around some heavy orange wire and initially thanked me but proceeded to get much more aggressive. They demanded to know what I was doing, and weren’t happy with the assertion that I was a student studying around the corner from where we were currently standing. They wanted to see some identification. The janitor sent the servitor to call university security and presumably the police. During this time another student came up the staircase we were on looking for the event in the Playfair Library - only to be rather aggressively told to leave.
Alexander: What was going through your mind while waiting for security to arrive?
Kidston: I was worried, but I did not think things would progress beyond the arrival of security. I was annoyed that I was prevented from leaving, or simply escorting the janitor to where all my stuff was to show him that my intention was only to study. While waiting I texted Hona to say I was being hassled nearby. At one point the janitor laid his hand on me. Prior to the arrival of security I decided it would be for the best anyway to pick up our stuff and try diplomatically to leave. I came back to find a rather distressed Hona, as the janitor had been extremely rude to her. We met security going down the stairs.
Alexander: What did they say?
Kidston: They wanted to see our student identification again, which I had and Hona did not. They wanted to detain us again, and, considering how stressful the situation was becoming, I informed them that we intended to leave and they had no right to detain us. In moving towards the door they proceeded to manhandle me, push me against a wall and grab me around my waist. I swore and called the guy a thug and he seemed rather offended by this but continued to unapologetically deny me my right not to be assaulted or to leave. We escaped out of another entrance and tried to put as much distance between these horrible people and us as we could.
Alexander: That sounds very unsettling. When did you first become aware that the Princess Royal was in the building?
Kidston: I first became aware that Princess Anne was involved much later. Outside in the courtyard we met the police. (They had no idea initially why they’d been called, after forty minutes idly chatting they decided to search us for potential stolen property). It was in casual conversation with the police who were there, and other members of university security who had arrived, that they mentioned Princess Anne was using a room in our part of the building as an office.
Alexander: How did this change the way you saw the situation?
Kidston: This was the first I was offered an explanation of the unusual antics of the security staff. It made more sense, but I find it fairly disgusting that us students would be treated so badly in a university building, simply to cater for a member of the royal family ‘elected’ to the position of Chancellor under controversial circumstances anyway.
Alexander: It sounds as though the Princess, who ordinarily has little to do with the university, was being accommodated at your rather extreme expense. Do you think the university had its priorities straight here?
Kidston: Definitely not. The university’s priority should be to look after the interests of its students. That was not the case in this instance.
Alexander: How easily could the university have avoided this situation?
Kidston: Something like signage or roped off areas would certainly have clued us in to events happening in the building. As it happened, the areas of the university to be used by the Princess were kept secret. We were then penalised for being in an area we were never informed we weren’t meant to visit for this reason. The response by the janitor and security strikes me very much a response to their own ineptitude - for not properly securing the building as they were perhaps supposed to have.
Alexander: It seems like they had very little regard for your rights all along. I’ve heard a university official told Hona “I hope you get deported”. Can you tell me about that exchange?
Kidston: That particular exchange occurred whilst I was away collecting our belongings, making to leave. When I returned, Hona was clearly very distressed by the exchange and tried to get help from the people at the event next door in the Playfair library. They were sympathetic, but left when it was clear we were intending to leave prior to the arrival of security. Royal Protection actually even described us as a ‘threat’.
Alexander: To wrap things up, how about you tell me a bit about your own philosophy. Has this ordeal changed your view of the authorities in any way?
Kidston: I would consider myself somewhat of a left-libertarian. The university, which should exist for the public good by way of education, has instead become an entity too ready to prepare students for jobs in a capitalist system, helpfully loading them with debt requiring their speedy insertion into the job market. The police defend the state’s interests and in this case were particular in their submitting to cater for Anne and her royal protection. The individual officers, though they wanted to let us go as they knew no crime had taken place, were forced to detain us under order of their chief inspector, likely in tandem with royal protection. So, no, my views didn’t change much.
The Libertarian extends its gratitude to Mr. Kidston for taking the time to participate this interview, and wishes him the best in his future.