Revealed: The universities offering police intel on student Gaza protesters

York student Tugba Iyigun was visited by police at her home after tweeting the phrase 'From the river to the sea' while a rally on campus last November. Credit: Tugba Iyigun

Tugba Iyigun 1 (1)
Reporters submitted FoI requests to more than 140 UK universities for copies of email exchanges with police

Reports Aaron Walawalkar and Harriet Clugston for Liberty Investigates and Josh Milton for Metro.


Some UK universities appear to be “collaborating with the police to target, surveil and potentially criminalise their own students”, a union has alleged after an investigation uncovered new evidence of staff monitoring Gaza protesters and offering intel to officers.

One student at York accused her university of failing to protect her after police visited her home last November seeking to refer her to the controversial counter-terror programme Prevent because she tweeted the contested phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” while at a rally on campus.

Emails disclosed to Metro and Liberty Investigates under freedom of information (FoI) laws reveal campus security had days earlier offered to share footage of the rally with North Yorkshire Police after it requested the address of an unnamed female protester in attendance who posted the same phrase. The university however said it did not share the woman’s address.

A North Yorkshire Police (NYP) officer's bodycam footage of visiting the home of York student protester Tugba Iyigun. Credit: NYP. Inset: Tugba attends a pro-Palestine rally. Credit: Tugba Iyigun

Meanwhile, in May the Royal Agricultural University promised to keep police updated of any tensions or planned protests on campus after receiving an email from an officer pointing out “the number of foreign students [it has] enrolled” in what one campaign group claimed was an example of staff failing to challenge “profoundly racist assumptions”.

Two Palestinian students at the University of East Anglia (UEA) said they were being “silenced” after an email emerged which showed police advised staff that allowing their nation’s flag to be flown on campus last October, while not an offence, did not “look well on the establishment”.

One student told reporters: “It’s like I don’t have the freedom to represent myself and my state.” Another added: “I feel like an outsider now.”

The same police email said a pro-Palestinian talk scheduled by student Marxists was “one to monitor”. A UEA spokesperson said: “University is a time to explore ideas and express opinions and we encourage and allow free speech within the law on our campus.”

The cases have come to light after Metro and Liberty Investigates submitted FoI requests to more than 140 UK universities for copies of email exchanges with police discussing pro-Palestinian protest activity from 1 October 2023 until 16 May 2024 – around two weeks before the first encampments sprang up on UK campuses.

More than half (56%) of universities that responded said no emails had been exchanged with police. Many either refused to answer, saying it would undermine law enforcement, or failed to respond by the legal deadline, including several whose handling of encampments has faced criticism from protesters, such as The University of Oxford, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and University College London (UCL).

In early May Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a meeting of vice-chancellors at 17 universities, urging them to take a “zero-tolerance” approach to anti-semitism and tackle “disruption to students’ learning” amid sustained political pressure to crack down on the protests.

Twenty universities have so far disclosed correspondence with local police forces revealing varying degrees of cooperation and intelligence sharing.

An email from police to the Royal Agricultural University requesting intel on tensions linked to the "Israel/Gaza conflict" points out the number of "foreign students enrolled". Credit: FOI

Other revelations in the cache include:

  • Aston University staff invited police to a meeting discussing their protest response two weeks before threatening a student encampment with legal action in May – although it told reporters the students “voluntarily” left their camp in June without legal action or police collaboration
  • A Queen Mary manager speculated to police that “radical elements” would “hijack the momentum” of protests on campus. “We are monitoring closely the plans of the students in the encampment and will provide you with the details when they are known,” they said. On a separate occasion the manager informed officers they expected around 200 people would attend one protest on campus, which had not been authorised by the university, which they said “poses a public order threat”.
  • London’s School of Advanced Study and the University of Cambridge held meetings with the police to discuss protest activity
  • UEA’s security requested a police officer to join their control room monitoring CCTV during a protest students held on the university’s open day
  • Warwick shared Instagram posts advertising upcoming protests to officers and sought advice on “Prevent-related issues” concerning a representative from the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) diaspora network, invited to speak by students. In a statement the university said it “vigorously protected” free speech
An email from Warwick's community safety team to police seeking advice on any "prevent-related issues" with the Palestinian Youth Movement. Credit: FOI

Prevent requires universities to identify people considered at risk of extremism and refer them for intervention. It has been criticised by human rights groups as disproportionately targeting minorities and lacking transparency.

The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) said the emails lay bare a “cosy relationship” between officers and campus security acting as “gatherers of political intelligence”.

Campaigns coordinator Kevin Blowe said: “Universities [are] appearing to accept without question the police’s paranoid belief that political activism is a dangerous ‘outside’ influence on the student body, even one ‘imported’ by overseas students. These are profoundly racist assumptions and failing to challenge them is a failure to protect young people from harm.”

A University College Union (UCU) spokesperson described the findings as “disturbing”, adding: “Evidence of university managers collaborating with the police to target, surveil, and potentially criminalise their own students for peacefully protesting against genocide should ring alarm bells”.

A separate FoI request revealed at least 15 UK universities have initiated disciplinary proceedings against staff and students in connection with pro-Palestine protest activity since October 2023. Three others, who did not provide responses, have also reportedly taken action against students.

One student who allegedly shouted “Free Palestine” in a cafe at University of Essex in January – described as breaching rules against “exhibiting threatening behaviour and harassment” – was still awaiting an outcome five months later. A spokesperson said the university could not comment on ongoing cases.

UEA, City University London and Cranfield University admitted sharing protesters’ personal data with police despite not receiving a request to do so. A UEA spokesperson explained it reported a student to police for criminal damage, while City University does not comment on matters involving individual or small groups of staff or students for privacy reasons. Cranfield also referred up to four students to Prevent.

An email from Queen Mary's crime prevention manager speculates that “radical elements” would “hijack the momentum” of protests on campus. Credit: FOI

Tugba Iyigun, the York student visited by police on 19 November last year, is concerned emails obtained by reporters appear to show officers discussing her protest activity with the university.

An email forwarded by police to the head of campus safety, a former police officer, five days earlier said: “A female has posted on social media about the event and has used language ‘From the River to the Sea’. She came to our attention during the anti-monarchy protests during the King’s Visit in York. Is it possible to find out whether she is a current student at the Uni please and any address details they hold?”

The force also highlighted that campus protesters had chanted “5, 6, 7, 8, Israel is a terrorist state”.

A spokesperson for York university, which told police it could have footage of the rally if it submitted a Data Protection Act request, said: ‘The University did not receive a DPA request regarding personal data of a student, nor did it receive a DPA request for footage of a protest, and therefore no personal data or footage was released to police.”

Tugba, 43, a former journalist from Turkey, said: “The university claims that they [support] human rights … yet they didn’t take any steps to protect my rights. I am their student and this is a solid attack on my freedom of speech.”

On 21 May this year security staff also informed police they were keeping a log monitoring the “general mood/behaviour” of the York encampment, lamenting senior management’s decision against installing CCTV, the disclosures show.

That same day the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s neighbourhood policing lead contacted all police forces requesting intelligence on any UK students “replicating American campus protest”, an email from Gloucestershire Constabulary to the Royal Agricultural University suggests.

Most universities named by this investigation provided statements saying they are committed to protecting free speech while providing a safe environment for students – with the exception of Queen Mary which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The NPCC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A version of this article was published with Metro.