8th-10th May 1968

8th (Wednesday) Issue 10 of the student Socialist Society bulletin The Spark devotes p. 2 to Lee Calcraft’s ‘Porton – and Public Health in Reverse’, on the use of CS gas in Vietnam, and the complicity of scientists working at Porton. See also issue 5/February 22nd front page on ‘More British Collaboration in the Vietnam War’ (Gordon Blair), publicising the March 17th Vietnam Solidarity Campaign demonstration in London.

Students’ Council Chair Ian Brodie and ‘a staff member of the Chemistry Department’ are interviewed on the early evening edition of ITV’s regional Anglia News broadcast.

8th (Wednesday) The Times editorial, ‘Student Uproars in Paris – and in Britain’ (p. 11) chastises French police brutality and the use of force in Paris, while deploring any violation of free speech (in Sloman’s sense) on British campuses (‘quite simply the silencing of opponents by mob action’); such violations are seen as a mark of their failure, if the allegedly responsible majority don’t do something to remedy the situation. A key reference point here is the cancellation of a visit by Conservative MP Patrick Wall to the University of Warwick, mentioned also in ‘Police dogs sent to Essex University’ on the Inch affair, where the visitor is described as having been ‘pushed and jostled’ at Essex (p. 2, sub dated May 7th)

Locations: Box 18a/Students’ Council (issues of The Spark);

Box 14/Internal Documents/Ref 2 (transcript of Anglia interview);

Box 21/BBC (transcript of Anglia interview).

9th (Thursday) is seemingly quiet on campus, although behind the scenes the demonstrators are continuing to research Porton Down, CBW, and the ethics of science for their public awareness campaign, as well as drafting articles for the next day’s issue of the student newspaper Wyvern. Meanwhile the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar are reaching the decision to single out and suspend Peter Archard, Raphael Halberstadt, and David Triesman for their part in the Inch demonstration.

10th Friday 1pm The three students receive notice of their suspension by letter and are invited to address any queries to the Vice Chancellor in writing. The Registrar’s account of the Inch visit/notification of rustications (‘Incidents at Wivenhoe House’) is posted on his notice board; copies are sent to Senate, Council, General Assembly, and Chair of Students’ Council. His account is subsequently challenged by Peter Wexler, Stanley Mitchell, Joan Busfield, and Chris Mullins; the rebuttal was included in a sheaf of documents handed to members of the University as they arrived on campus the following Monday; Mullins also submitted the rebuttal (with some hand-written additions) as written testimony to the Tribunal of Enquiry.

Draft of letter to Triesman delivered May 10th

The University’s Information Officer Walter Evans is surprised (and clearly more than a little embarrassed) when the news breaks in the Hexagon restaurant, interrupting his lunch with Professor Gibson of the Chemistry Department, and (by unhappy coincidence) the science correspondent of the Daily Telegraph; he drafts a short note on the handling of P.R around the incident, which offers some detail on the preparation of the official University Press Release about the suspensions.

Student protestors hold meetings and draft a series of documents in response to the announcement of the rustications. ‘The Porton Down Affair’, an unsigned open letter, is distributed on dining tables in the Hexagon and posted at the University’s Information Centre. The document explains the demonstrators’ motivations and tactic, remaining skeptical about the University allegations around “free speech” (Cf the Official Secrets Act signed by researchers at Porton Down), and reasserting the need both for science to be held to account, and for Universities to play a role in this.

By the evening ‘A Statement’ by Andy Mack is also circulated (200 copies), arguing against ‘reasoned dissent’ as a futile liberal sop, and for the necessity of more direct action. Mack further offers an account of Tuesday’s dialogue with Inch in the corridors of Wivenhoe House, and refers to the secrecy surrounding research at Porton (20% of their research is classified). Ultimately, for Mack, scientific work cannot be compartmentalised and always has political implications.

11.55pm ‘The Porton Down Affair: Phase II’ printed for circulation next day, emphasising that the suspended students had no hearing, and that (in any event) the demonstration was a collective action that had no ringleaders: ‘A more blatant case of VICTIMISATION would be difficult to imagine.’ The rustications will extend until June 19th – AFTER the exams. The document is a fantastic chronicle of protestor activities and meetings during the day in response to the rustications. Meetings documented at:

  • Lunchtime (200 attended) – Administration offices obstructed and Keynes Tower blockaded to stop eviction of rusticated students;
  • 6.30pm Keynes Tower – decision to march on the Vice Chancellor’s house (see image above, Sloman was ‘apparently, not at home’);
  • Evening meetings at Wivenhoe House and the Library further resolve (1) to deliver a letter to the Vice Chancellor with a list of demands; (2) to call a mass meeting for Monday, 11.30am, in LTB6, with staff and students urged to skip classes and lectures to attend; (3) to distribute leaflets on campus and in Colchester Saturday and Monday mornings; and (4) to keep guard on the 3 students in spite of Chief Maintenance Officer Mr Lilley’s assurances that there would be no forcible evictions. The leaflet also gives details on how to support the students and who to contact.

Meanwhile, Anthony Barker (Department of Government) attempts to requisition a General Assembly of staff to hear a report about the rustications from Sloman, and to consider any implications for the University’s code of conduct. The attempt is blocked by the Registrar, but Barker (according to his note) continues to gather support for a meeting of staff to take place as soon as possible.

Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, Walter Evans also drafted a note describing an attempt by David Triesman to speak with the Vice Chancellor, who wasn’t in his office at the time, about the suspensions. Triesman had noted that the letter he received proposed addressing queries to the Vice Chancellor in writing, although on returning the Vice Chancellor let Evans know he could simply make an appointment. By this stage, however, Evans was no longer able to reach the students, who had been barricaded into Keynes Tower to forestall any attempted forcible evictions.

This breakdown in communications had its consequences. A number of students not involved in the initial demonstration subsequently joined the protestors, and many because of the apparent lack of ‘natural justice’ afforded to the rusticated trio, who never got to put their case to the authorities. It is therefore possible that such a meeting between Triesman and Sloman, had it come about, might have helped to contain somewhat the events that followed.

10th (Friday) University advertises for two professors, two senior lecturers, eight lecturers, and five fellows in the Department of Chemistry. ‘General Vacancies’, The Times, p. 24.

Locations: Box 9/Tribunal Written Submissions/Ref 16 (rebuttal of Registrar’s account, with one or two hand-written annotations by Chris Mullins);

Box 14/Internal Documents/Ref 3 (‘The Porton Down Affair’), Ref 4 (draft rustication letter), Ref 5 (‘Incidents at Wivenhoe House’), Ref 6 (University Press Release), Ref 6a (Evans on the news breaking at the Hexagon), Ref 7 (Barker’s note on requisitioning of General Assembly), Ref 8 (Evans on Triesman’s attempt to speak with Sloman), Ref 9 (‘The Porton Down affair: Phase II’), Ref 10 (Mack’s ‘A Statement’), and Ref 16c (rebuttal of Registrar’s account);

Box 17/May 1968 contains copies of Refs 3, 5 (annotated/date and time stamped), 9, 10, 16c;

Box 29/Press Releases (the official University statement on the rustications).

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