Protesters posed as forensic investigators filming a mock news reportHarry Aitken

Protesters from the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society gathered outside the University Investment Office on Thursday to protest the University’s “lack of transparency” surrounding its investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Donning lab coats and bright orange gloves, campaigners posed as forensic detectives beginning a criminal investigation into Cambridge’s links to fossil fuel companies. They filmed a mock news report in which investigative forces were informed that “oil had been leaking out of the investment office drain.”

A security guard emerged almost as soon as filming began and attempted to forcibly remove the campaigners from the premises, pushing one young woman to the ground in the struggle. Accusing the protesters both of “invading private property” and of “criminal damage”, the security guard repeatedly threatened to contact the police.

The police tape used as a prop by the activists was torn away, and they were prevented from writing ‘£337 million’ – People & Planet’s estimate of the University’s investments in fossil fuels – on the pavement in chalk.

Several symbolic props were used in the protest, including a torn and burnt copy of the Divestment Grace, approved last year by Regent House, which requires that ‘none of the University’s Endowment Funds should be invested directly or indirectly in companies whose business is wholly or substantially concerned with the extraction of fossil fuels.’

A transparent bag containing cockle shells, labelled ‘evidence’, was used to evoke the links between the new Director of Finance, David Hughes, and the multinational oil and gas company, Shell.

Hughes spent 30 years in the BG Group, now part of Shell, prior to joining the University Investment Office, which Cambridge Zero Carbon Society suggest may lead to a “conflict of interest affecting his management of the endowment.”

Incidentally, the University has just received a benefaction from Shell for US $240,000.

Speaking to Varsity about the importance of the campaign, Rory Goldring – a spokesperson for Zero Carbon – said “every year 22 million people around the world are displaced due to climate-related problems,” and accused Cambridge's investment strategy of being “complicit in this climate injustice.”


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He noted that unlike over a third of UK universities, Cambridge has refused both to commit to divesting and to disclose where its investments lie.

Cambridge Zero Carbon Society said: “at least five separate Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have asked for a transparent breakdown of the investment portfolio but have been rejected on the grounds that disclosing such information may ‘prejudice the commercial interests of the University’.

“An investor's legal obligation is to their beneficiaries and we, as students and academics, are the beneficiaries of this endowment and we are not even allowed to know what ethical wrongs are being done in our name.”

Fieke van der Spek, another spokesperson for Zero Carbon said, “the University’s financial position affects everyone within Cambridge and so total transparency surrounding investments is definitely within the ‘public interest’.”

The protest on Thursday follows several other demonstrations regarding divestment last term, including a protest in November in front of King’s College Chapel, where campaigners dressed in black set off smoke grenades and shouted through megaphones.

Zero Carbon Society have also previously staged a march through the centre of Cambridge and handed out soap to members of the University Council outside Senate House as part of a campaign for the University to ‘come clean’.

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