The Telegraph, 4th February 2018
With just an electioneering banner hiding his modesty, Joshua Connor stripped naked to promote his dedication to honest and open democratic debate when standing in a student election.
But, the failed presidential candidate for his Students’ Union was last night identified as being at the centre of a scuffle aimed at stifling freedom of speech at a university where Jacob Rees-Mogg was the guest speaker.
The event descended into a fracas in which punches were seemingly thrown and the Conservative MP was forced to intervene to hold both sides apart while police were called.
Now, Andreea Dumitrache, a 25-year-old female student at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, has claimed she was “punched” by a middle-aged man who appeared to be trying to eject her and her friend, Mr Connor, 24, along with eight anti-Fascists protesters.
The group, many of them wearing masks to conceal their identity, targeted the event on Friday claiming the politician should not be heard in a public forum.
Mr Connor, a former creative media student at the university who now works in recruitment, was heard shouting: “No platform for homophobia. No platform for racists.”
His increasingly foul-mouthed tirade resulted in Mr Rees-Mogg attempting to placate the protesters before it descended into a skirmish. Video footage shows the politician being jostled left and right.
During a few moments of grappling between the opposing sides the arm of a middle-aged man in a white shirt is seen to connect with Ms Dumitrache’s head.
It is not clear whether the blow is on purpose or accidental as the man, who has not been identified, is struggling free from someone holding him.
Mr Connor and the middle-aged man appear to throw blows at one another, none of which seem to connect. Meanwhile, Mr Rees-Mogg continues to try separate the two sides.
Ms Dumitrache, believed to be Romanian MA student, said on twitter: “The member of the audience in the white shirt started getting violent towards the people being disruptive. I was standing in front of him when he punched me. No student was violent here. He was clearly a supporter but it didn’t look like it was someone from Mogg’s team.”
Mr Connor, originally from Nottingham and who is the son of a software engineer, last night failed to respond to repeated attempts to contact him.
However, it emerged that his motto to “bare all” in his publicity material to stand as UWE’s student union president three years ago was an attempt to call for accountability and open debate. He lost after coming third in the election.
In Facebook messages to his father he also says: “I’m telling you to man the cannons for the socialist revolution.”
Footage of the tussle sparked anger among politicians and those affected by extremists.
Brendan Cox, whose wife Jo, the Labour MP, was murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2016, said the incident was “absolutely disgraceful”, adding: “Those who try to deny elected representatives the chance to speak attack democracy itself.”
The university said it was “absolutely appalled” by the group’s actions. William Bates, vice-president of UWE’s Conservative Society, blamed “non-students” who resisted Mr Rees-Mogg’s attempts to calm them by yelling “Nazi scum”.
“I was hit on the arm by a protester who wanted to stop me from filming … as such I contacted the police as I believed there was a possibility of this escalating.”
He added: “While I understand that there were a few minor physical altercations, nobody was hurt.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said he did not feel threatened and insisted that there was always a “legitimate place for lawful protest”.
“If they hadn’t been wearing face coverings there would have had nothing wrong with it. People are entitled to say ‘I disagree with someone and I don’t want to hear his views’, and it’s for me to overcome that and put my views forward.
“There’s a much more serious issue about the really vile abuse that is mainly directed at female politicians.
“Jess Phillips very kindly and generously sent me a message saying how appalled she was – but she’s faced much worse than anything I’ve had to put up with.
“What happened last night, in the grand scheme of things, is not that important.”
Avon and Somerset Police appealed for anyone to come forward with mobile phone footage to help an ongoing investigation, adding that no arrests had been made.