Evidence of a mole?

There are two items in the files of the Registrar, HH Burchnall, which suggest that he was receiving information about student tactics from a source very close to Socialist Society or the March 19 Committee (an umbrella group set up after the charges to coordinate the campaign against the disciplining of the ten).

The first is a typewritten note – possibly a draft of a planned position paper. It is unsigned. Note the sections in italics:

The seizure of Senate House

The Senate House was illegally occupied by students from Monday 9 March to Friday 20 March.  It has been said that the decision to occupy was taken at a mass meeting following a talk by the Vice-Chancellor to some 200 students in the Union building at 12:30pm.  This is false.

A decision to occupy the Senate House on the Monday, without regard to anything the Vice-Chancellor might say on that day, had been taken by a group of dissident students during the previous week.

The decision had been referred to by ring-leaders in Liverpool on the previous Thursday, and had been quoted in Cambridge before the weekend.

While the Vice-Chancellor was speaking, an advance guard was already lurking in the Senate House.

This has been admitted during the subsequent disciplinary proceedings.

One student has claimed –

[blank space]

Prominent among the occupying students were a former student and a number of outsiders.

The exclusion of staff

On the morning of Tuesday 10 March the Senate House staff were refused admission.  The doors were barricaded and guards were posted.  The Registrar and others were physically obstructed.

The intention to obstruct

Throughout the occupation a prominent notice on the main door of the Senate House included the statement: [blank space]

This was also circulated as a broadsheet throughout the University. [The author was probably referring here to the leaflet, We Occupy, We Stay]

Another document in the Burchnall file is the following unsigned typescript, dated 23 March 1970, which provides the University with pretty precise details of the defence tactics planned for the disciplinary hearings, and the campaign tactics for the Easter vacation period and after.  It’s an enumerated list of observations by our ‘mole’:

  1. After his reported speech, Professor Farmer would be objected to as chairman.
  2. The Ten are meeting in the Union tonight to discuss tactics.
  3. Of the Ten it is probable that Peter Cresswell, Ian Williams, Daniel Fishman, Susan Rosinger and Andrew Black are the militants and, as such, do not seem to care unduly about the future.   Consequently they may extend the “fight” against the “ruling classes” to the hearing if they can.  Daniel Fishman the American – I understand his father lectures at Keele University.
  4. What they will try to achieve:
    (a) Argue with the wording of the charge
    (b) Obtain press support – see attached letter [not in file unfortunately]
    (c) Have an open disciplinary hearing
    (d) Call in some 200 witnesses – ie, fellow occupiers – and so disrupt the proceedings
    (e)Put off until next term to allow the disruption under (c) and (d) to be more effective
    (f) Use injunctions against the University to delay
    (g) Agreement to a Joint Trial
    (h) Object to the composition of the committee (anything to delay, etc)
    (i) Get local colleges to support – not much chance during the vacation
  5. Other plans –
    (a) Investigate possibility of an injunction against Dodgson for inciting them (the others) to riot
    (b) 180 people approx have signed a note with Fr McGoldrick as a witness, accepting responsibility for the occupation (to try and divert attention from the Ten)
    (c) Get Guild Council to approve the payment of their legal expenses
    (d) They accept that they are in the wrong.  They are considering employing a barrister for one case and the rest will abide by the result.
    (e) All living in and around Liverpool to lobby the hearings and get into the building by hook or by crook and so make it a public hearing. A Black is the correspondent.  They left their addresses with him and he is going to write to them.
    (f) “They have a right to discipline us, but not just the ten”.
    (g) They have elected a secret committee of 6 (not quite clear what they are going to do)
    (h) “Get Macmillan to lead the deputation (re postponement) and hit him with a stick all the way over”.
  6. Next term – stand up before lectures start and tell everybody what is going on. An early mass meeting. Continue the fight.

6 thoughts on “Evidence of a mole?”

  1. I speculate of course – but from a symptomatic reading of the text, it doesn’t ‘feel’ as if it has been written by someone aged 18-22. It reads ‘older’, as if drafted by someone familiar with such briefings. There’s a dispassionate critical distance between the author and the ‘they’ he (sic) describes. Were the author ‘one of us’ – that is, of our age at the time – I’d have expected the tone to be more excited, even alarmist.


  2. “Had been quoted in Cambridge” or “in the Cambridge”??

    If in fact the latter, what we may be reading is a written report from one party of a verbal report from another, with misunderstandings. But if indeed it means “quoted in Cambridge”, then how on earth are we to understand the connection between the two places? I certainly don’t remember any link.

    More intriguing.

  3. I think they are written by two different people.The first could be a draft of a possible letter to a newspaper in reply to something already written or in anticipation of sympathetic press coverage of the occupation.Possibly from a member of staff submitted to Burchnall for comment?
    The second is more interesting and as Dave suggests possibly someone familiar with pithy report writing.It seems tight and legalistic, better stylistically than the first.Could it be Burchnall’s own notes typed up and tidied up from say a conversation held on the telephone?

  4. Dave – you are very perspicaceous! This is how history is written – ‘Cambridge’ or ‘the Cambridge’! I had to chuckle…I think you are probably right.

  5. The first note, undated, is clearly composed after the ‘trial’ because it refers to matters corroborated by statements therein. The italicised part could be from just about anyone with an axe to grind, having overheard a bit of chit-chat, say, ‘in the Cambridge’. Unsurprisingly that it should be a matter of conversation that weekend; and hence, overheard. I don’t think this first note is evidence of a ‘mole’.

    On the barricading of the doors on the Tuesday, it’s presented as a highly adversarial and provocative act on our part. I recall it in fact as a necessary and entirely defensive measure to secure our own safety and the integrity of the building against violent assaults by rioting right-wing hooligans.

  6. Yes, the mole seems to emerge after the sentences; the first note is much more general. However, someone who made the rather strange judgement that five of us ‘didn’t care about the future’ must have been party to some sort of discussions or social contact with us. I mean, it wsn’t true but I could understand how someone could have drawn that conclusion. The bit about ‘accepting we were in the wrong’ is interesting. We obviously never said that publicly (surely?) but may have said in private that we thought there wasn’t much of a defence technically. I think that after the sentences we drew additional people into the campaign and it would have been a good opportunity for someone to worm their way in. There’s fortunately no suggestion that anyone in the sit in was a mole. I feel enormously relieved about that for some reason – it would have been a real blow, even after all these years to have had a real traitor in our midst!

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