7th May 1968: The Inch Lecture

7th May (Tuesday) By lunchtime, the Chemistry Department have got wind of the fact that students are gravely concerned about the presence on campus of a research scientist from Porton Down, and that Dr Inch’s lecture on ‘The Chemical and Biological Properties of Toxic Chemicals’, organised by the student Chemical Society for that afternoon, is going to face organised opposition. Decisions are made to put Dr John Tillett in the Chair, and to relocate the lecture from the Lecture Theatre Block (LTB) to the Committee Room up the valley in Wivenhoe House, seemingly in the hope that this will put the demonstrators off the scent. This decision is quietly communicated to Chemistry Students by Dr Bowden, although two of them make it clear to him that the lecture will be disrupted anyway.

In the event, at around 4.30pm, the lecture began and was almost immediately interrupted by the arrival of large numbers of protestors, who had already been spotted through the windows of the Committee Room as they were marching up the hill to Wivenhoe House from the new campus below. A fragmentary tape recording of the start of the meeting was subsequently transcribed and submitted to the Tribunal of Enquiry into the events at the lecture, but the recording was inadvertently cut short while the demonstrators were still trying to gain access to the venue.

The Tribunal of Enquiry was convened on Tuesday 21st May, gathered written evidence for preliminary consideration on Friday 24th, held hearings and cross examinations all through the following week, and reconvened for one last cross examination on 6th June regarding allegations that Dr Bowden had grabbed and damaged the glasses of protestor Jem Thomas.

Accounts gathered by the Tribunal vary widely as to the sequence and nature of the events at the lecture, but it is clear that the demonstrators interrupted Dr Inch, with David Triesman announcing that the meeting was being diverted to take the form of a ‘War Crimes Tribunal’. An ‘indictment’ against Porton Down, co-researched and co-authored by the demonstrators, was read out by students in turn. The protestors had made and distributed multiple copies of the ‘indictment’, foreseeing the possibility that speakers would be silenced or bundled out of the room; they had divided the document up, marking locations in the margins where named speakers were to take up their sections, and many others subsequently claimed to be ready to pick up the reading at any point should it become necessary.

Before the completion of the reading, members of the Chemistry Department consulted with Dr Inch and decided to try to leave the room, but found themselves blocked by students. It was around this point that Peter Archard, acting on his own volition, ran to the front of the room and emptied a tin of mustard powder over Dr Inch and others, shouting ‘Mustard gas! Mustard gas!’ Most accounts agree that Dr Inch did eventually make his way out of the room, although he didn’t get far before he lost his escort in the winding corridors of Wivenhoe House and found himself face to face with the demonstrators once again. Some dialogue did take place at this point but was cut short by the arrival of the police, who eventually managed to gain access to Dr Inch and lead him from the building in spite of the large number of of students seated in the corridor and attempting to block the passage.

Wyvern #37 (May 10th, 1968)
Wyvern #37 (10.05.68)

Following the departure of Dr Inch there were one or two scuffles between students and police outside Wivenhoe House, although there were also subsequently reports of more constructive exchanges going on at the time as well. Many accounts by the demonstrators agree that some of the police, at least, were quite nonplussed about being called out at all. As the protestors dispersed and returned to the campus in the valley below Wivenhoe House, they distributed around 470 copies of a further co-researched and co-authored student document, ‘Oppose Chemical and Biological Warfare’.

Locations: Box 8 (Tribunal Report);

Box 9/Tribunal Written Evidence (written submissions, including promotional poster for event (Ref 35), transcript of meeting preliminaries from curtailed tape recording (Ref 78), annotated copy of the Indictment (Ref 4), ‘Oppose Chemical and Biological Warfare’ pamphlet (Ref 35);

Boxes 10 and 11 contain transcripts of all hearings (27th-31st May, 6th June); Box 10 also includes approx 1/2-hour tape of first morning of hearings – Peter Archard and some of Dr. Tillett (transcript pp. 24-37);

Box 14/Internal Documents/Ref 1a (copy of the CBW pamphlet);

Box 16/1968 contains a note to the Tribunal of Enquiry specifying the number of copies made of the CBW pamphlet, circa 24th May, and a further, more brief and enigmatic note ‘To Fiona’ from ‘D’, advising her to hold back from doing anything about Chemists at Wivenhoe House for the time being…;

Box 17/May 1968 includes clean copies of the Indictment and the CBW pamphlet; this Box also includes full transcripts from the Tribunal hearings.

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