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‘Alarming’ emails expose uni attempts to silence BP critics

by Felicity Collier

DAMNING emails reveal that the University of Hull sought to clamp down on criticism of BP in its murky deal with the oil giant.

During a season of lectures at the university, sponsored by BP as part of the Hull's City of Culture events, the university approached the corporation, asking "whether it wants us to get rid of" critical comments made about it on its social media.

A freedom of information request, made by research group Culture Sustained, shows that the university's press officer was being wary about comments made during a live Facebook stream of the first BP Cultural Visions lecture earlier this year.

While it is not mentioned in the emails, Culture Sustained said police attended the next lecture with no apparent cause for them having been called.

When BP head of arts and culture urged staff at the City of Culture to create a special briefing for speakers on how to deal with "awkward questions" about the sponsorship, staff said it could ensure that it would hear from the audience "as long as it's not the activist."

Following one lecture featuring BP vice president Peter Mather, the director of Hull City of Culture Martin Green appeared to close down a question about the company's record on climate change.

The revelations preceded last night's final lecture, delivered by Ian Blatchford, the director of the Science Museum an organisation which has faced controversy over its own sponsorship deal with BP.

For several years, campaigners have been lobbying against the British Museum's dirty dealings with BP as it continues to renew its sponsorship despite BP being linked to climate change and human rights abuses.

Culture Unstained co-director Chris Garrard said: "While BP's cynical PR strategy is no surprise, the willingness of a university to go along with the company's agenda is alarming.

"An independent research institution should not be offering to protect a corporate criminal with a dire environmental record from legitimate scrutiny by the public."

In the past, questions have also been raised about possible BP surveillance of peaceful activists and, in the emails acquired by Culture Unstained, a specific reference is made to BP "intelligence on activists."

Last year, Art Not Oil  published a report exposing how the BP security team hosted meetings with senior staff from  museums and galleries it sponsors in order to contain criticisms from peaceful arts activists.

Despite attempts made by the Star, the University of Hull was not reachable for comment.

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