The motion of no confidence against Jo Swo was dropped after incorrect information was supplied to the proposers by UEA SU. The union have since called this error “unfortunate”.
Samuel Cross, union councillor for Postgraduate History, told Concrete that, “Initially I was advised by a representative of the Student Union that in order for the motion of no confidence to be put on the agenda for Union Council the motion required only a proposer and a seconder.
“On 3rd December I was informed that this advice was unfortunately incorrect and that in order for it to appear before Council it would require the support of ten Union Councillors.
“I was given until 19:00 on 6th December (the deadline for amendments to motions) to find the support of the required number of councillors.”
Consequently, Mr Cross felt that he had to withdraw the motion against Miss Swo. He continued, “There was an aspect of pragmatism to the withdrawal of the motion of no-confidence as I felt that given the imposed time frame it would prove difficult to gain the support of the required amount of councillors.
“I had less than three days — two working days —to collect the required number of union councillors to support the motion, after receiving the revised advice regarding the process. As a new union councillor without established links within the peer group this was always likely to be hard.”
In relation to the issue surrounding the process for the submission of the motion of no confidence an SU spokesperson said: “The mistake was unfortunate but we both gave the proposer longer to find proposers than originally — three days as opposed to one day — and made clear that this would not prevent Sam from submitting a motion of no confidence in the future.”
At the time Mr Cross was also in discussions with the proposers of the censure motion, Nicholl Hardwick and Madeleine Colledge. During these negotiations they agreed upon the removal of point four in the ‘Union Believes’ section of their motion. This stated that “Miss Swo’s actions, although serious, do not warrant her being removed from her position at the SU.”
Mr Cross said, “I felt that there was justification to believe that Jo’s actions were serious enough to warrant her being removed from her position and that therefore I could not, in good conscience, support the censure motion whilst it remained.”
This point was subsequently dropped and the censure motion passed at union council. There is no restriction on any future motion of no confidence being brought against Miss Swo.
Concrete also spoke to Sophie Ghashghaei-Pour, a Postgraduate Law student, who has raised concerns with the union over the wording of the statement on which the censure motion was based. In particular when the union stated that: “The judgment made about the incident involving Jo was that the offences were minor in nature- it is clear that the theft (of crisps) and the assault (a non invasive bite to the arm) were not intended and no harm was caused.”
Miss Ghashghaei-Pour said, “The statement released by the union referred to the incident as including a minor non-intended assault. However, clearly this wasn’t an accidental act, so referring to it as non-intentional is vague and distorts the nature of what really happened – which was a common assault.
“It is hard to imagine a situation where a bite isn’t intentional and it is irrelevant whether causing physical injury was the motivation. Referring to it as a ‘non-invasive bite’ downplays what is essentially a significant invasion of somebody’s bodily autonomy.”
She continued, “It was unfortunate that the statement which preceded the vote on the motion of censure was partly based upon the ambiguous and potentially misleading press release issued by the Student Union. I would hope that any motion would be based upon precise and clear information in order that councillors can vote whilst in possession of all facts rather than conjecture.”
A spokesperson for the SU told Concrete that: ”Whilst Sophie may be technically correct in relation to legal terminology, the categorisation of non-intended and minor are management definitions that allow us to ensure that Venue staff are consistent with their handling of incidents in the LCR.
“When deciding whether to issue a ban from licensed premises we expect an assessment to be made of the seriousness of an incident and whether we believe a member intended to cause harm. We do this because the Code of Conduct expects us to assess seriousness and intent.”
Miss Ghashghaei-Pour responded to this, and told Concrete: “‘It is of course completely fine for the Union to have an internal Code of Conduct to categorise behaviour and to determine the appropriate internal disciplinary response to actions by SU members that take place in Licensed Premises, however it would be preferable that in a press release more neutral, plain language be used to ensure a fair and accurate account is communicated.
“A better description of events would have been ‘Assault by biting, causing no physical injury’, this would have ensured that nobody could interpret the Union’s statement as an attempt to minimise the nature of the incident before a democratic vote could take place on Jo’s position as a Union Councillor.”
Both Mr Cross and Miss Ghashghaei-Pour feel that the issue has still not been fully resolved.
Mr Cross said, “I am concerned about how much we (union councillors) have acknowledged the significance of the incident in question and how our response has been received by the student body. We all know that disengagement, disenfranchisement and disillusionment with union politics exists at UEA and I fear that recent events may have damaged the relationship between union council and ordinary members further.”
Miss Ghashghaei-Pour added, “The Union campaign on the basis that harassment and assault are ‘Never OK’ and that alcohol consumption is not an excuse. They need to take a firm line; it’s either ‘Never OK’ or it’s ‘Sometimes OK’.”
Sophie’s comments in relation to “zero tolerance” are also being considered by the External Trustee with responsibility for conduct. A spokesperson said: “We did not tolerate the behaviour in the incident. We ejected the member from the venue and issued a ban from licensed premises for a month. Having a zero tolerance approach to harassment does not mean taking every breach of our conduct code and removing all membership rights. It does mean taking every incident seriously and issuing punishments that are appropriate to the behaviour on display in accordance with a code of conduct.”
Commenting on the interaction between the incident and the Never OK campaign, SU Campaigns and Democracy Officer Amy Rust said “Harassment in our Venues is Never OK- it’s never OK from students and it’s Never OK from elected officers. In this case, in accordance with a set procedure, Jo was ejected from the LCR, issued with a month long LCR/bars ban and has had to have a discussion about her alcohol consumption with our staff- as well as being censured at the Union Council.
“This is clearly not an ideal situation given Jo’s leadership role in relation to ‘Never OK’ but it won’t stop us working to make nights out in SU premises as safe as possible.”
Responding to this Mr Cross and Miss Ghashghaei-Pour said, “We have not taken issue with the manner in which the Union applied punitive measures against Miss Swo in relation to her as an ordinary member of the students’ union, the issue that remains unanswered is whether appropriate action has been taken in regards to her role as a paid, elected official.
“It is admirable that the Union intends to continue with its ‘Never OK’ campaign and the events that took place should not prevent it from doing so.
“However, the question is does the student body still have confidence in Jo to carry out this role on their behalf?”