Lancaster students highlight ‘rise’ in attacks and abuse

Physical attacks, racist abuse and threats against students in Lancaster have risen sharply in recent months according to a letter signed by more than 50 students, ex-students and student organisations.

By Robbie Macdonald, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 11:21 am

Anti-Jewish and other types of racist abuse has been directed at students from different European, Chinese and Asian backgrounds, which one student said was unlike anything he had experienced in the past three years.

One student even warned that someone could be killed, after one alleged incident involving 18 people, where seven allegedly carried weapons.

Another said abuse was hurled at students during a recent protest against the invasion of Ukraine.

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More than 50 students have signed a letter detailing abuse they have received in Lancaster.

Allegations range from physical attacks and verbal abuse to theft, damage and trespassing on student homes.

Perpetrators are said to range from gangs of young teenagers to groups of older men. Some have worn masks and carry, or claim to carry, weapons such as a rubber baseball bat or knives.

Lancaster is home to thousands of students from the UK and overseas and has two main sites at Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria.

The joint letter to Lancaster City Council has been signed by more than 50 students and organisations, including the Jewish Society.

Student testimonies include:

*A group of male students being attacked by teenagers and young men while walking home at night. One student was hit with a rubber baseball. The attackers also claimed to be carrying knives. One student stated: “We believe these young men were on the street that day to beat people. No one carries a rubber baseball bat for self defence.”

*A male student being punched, kicked and hit with a glass bottle late at night after coming across a group of men who had been thrown out of a city centre club.

*Two female students being assaulted and ‘chased’ in the day near the market, where young teenagers threw balls at them and humiliated them.

*Student homes being attacked by teenagers throwing stones, with one student’s windows being damaged

*Trespassers entering the courtyard at a student home, where they smoked cannabis and made racist and sexual insults to students. On that occasion, they later apologised, students say.

*A student house being broken into with a knife left on a staircase, theft and attempted break-ins on other student rooms.

Painting a picture of rising hostility, the joint letter states: “We had noticed similar aggressive behaviour in the previous months. During the protest against the Ukraine invasion, a group of even younger men was shouting offensive slurs intentionally to a group of people, some of whom had their homes destroyed by air strikes. Another time, a group of 12 to 15-year-olds shouted anti-Semitic slurs at students on campus.”

Labour councillor Oliver Robinson, who is also president of Lancaster University Students’ Union, raised the issue at the latest full meeting of Lancaster City Council.

The council has links to various authorities including Lancashire Police. They are also part of a Community Safety Partnership which tackles issues including crime and anti-social behaviour.

At the meeting, Coun Robinson said: “I am raising concerns about residents who have been assaulted. They have also suffered anti-Semitic and racially-charged slurs. The letter details a raft of incidents going back over the past few months. There is a feeling that the issue is getting quite bad.”

The students’ letter was passed to Coun Caroline Jackson, the leader of the city council.

She said: “The Community Safety Partnership will be interested to see evidence of hate crime and this should also be going to specialist police officers. It’s also evidence of a community problem, which is a partnership issue. We will seen what more we can do to help.”

Coun Robinson said the police were at the scene of one recent incident ‘quite promptly’.

A Lancaster University spokesman said : “We have followed up with the police who made us aware of general issues of anti-social behaviour they are seeking to address, but we are not aware of students specifically being targeted in the city.

“However we are extremely concerned that students are reporting intimidation and urge any students to report incidents to the university as well as police. Details of what support is available and how to report incidents is here.

“The diversity of our university community is something that we celebrate as bringing great benefit to our city and we will continue our work with police, local partners and the Students Union to tackle anti-social behaviour.”