Was the Prime Minister’s visit to Derby rescheduled at the last moment due to ‘security concerns’? Did local media publish a deflective cover story to conceal a last-minute change of venue?
The story starts back in October 2015 when a disabled law student first blew the whistle on the lack of fire escape at the newly-opened University of Derby’s law school building at the ‘Copper Box’ at Friargate Square. The student served copies of fire safety building regulations on multiple senior university staff members to evidence that the six-storey building, that was a lecture facility for hundreds of students and police recruits, needed a fire escape. A December 2015 plan by the university to construct the fire escape early in 2016 was shelved.
Fate now seemingly took a hand in what happened next. In February 2017, the same law student was successful in having a question to the European Union Parliament accepted as a ‘formal petition’. The petition cited an EU directive to question the legality of UK student loans. The essence of the petition was that UK students were being charged interest at rates that were unlawful. We’ll return to this thread shortly.
In June 2017, the Grenfell Towers fire changed Derby City Council’s and Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service’s views on the lack of fire escape within the Copper Box building. The Derbyshire independent published here the first of a series of news articles on the missing fire escape, to include the revelation of the city council’s rushed 2015 ‘change of use’ planning approval, alongside its £3.5 million dependency on the University signing the building’s lease.
Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service has since claimed that it, having taken no action since 2015, threatened the University with an enforcement notice in 2017 that could potentially have closed the building until a fire escape was completed. By September 2017, the city council had received a new planning application to construct the fire escape that had been depicted within 2015 planning documents without ever having been built.
Meanwhile, by late 2017, the student’s EU petition had made its way through numerous bureaucratic approval and review processes, eventually prompting a formal ‘Notice to Member States’ response from the EU Commission via the EU Parliament. Whilst the response didn’t take direct action, it reminded Member States of the requirement for student loans to be offered at rates lower than those available in the general market. It was a veiled threat to the UK government to put its house in order.
In response to the EU Notice, Prime Minister Theresa May planned a 2018 education strategy speech which included reference to a review of student loans. Picking up on the source of the EU Notice, the speech was to include the example of a working-class boy from Derby who aspired to a career as a lawyer as part of its theme. Doubtless, the Prime Minister’s office believed that the University of Derby would be delighted if the PM referenced one of its law students.
The story now takes an unexpected twist: On 18th February 2018, Theresa May visited Derby and delivered her education review speech, not at the University of Derby but at Derby College’s Roundhouse building. The PM’s speech included the planned reference to a Derby law student. Note that, at this point, there was still no fire escape in place at the University of Derby’s Law School.
The Derby Telegraph covered the PM’s visit here and devoted considerable time to explaining the extraordinary decision to deliver the speech at the Roundhouse at Derby College. Internal sources suggest that an analysis of security arrangements for the PM’s visit had revealed the potential fire safety risk of the University’s law school building and that the scheduled location was changed at the last minute. However, the original speech was left intact.
The mystery of the Prime Minister’s speech raises a number questions:
- If the PM were delivering a speech in Derby that included an announcement on a review of student loans, driven by an EU petition from a University of Derby law student, why would she deliver that speech at Derby College which already had a significant commitment to an ongoing event at its Roundhouse location?
- Did the University of Derby miss out on a Prime Minister’s visit because of the lack of fire escape in its law school building?
- Was the disabled law student who: blew the whistle on the missing fire escape; launched the EU Petition’; but scuppered the Prime Minister’s visit to the University, targeted for exclusion by a vindictive university?
The Derbyshire Independent asked the Derby Telegraph’s editor and its journalist to confirm that they ran a cover story that concealed the change of location for the PM’s speech. Neither has responded to multiple requests for comment. Contact was made with Derby College’s Principal’s office but no response was forthcoming. We asked Theresa May’s office to confirm the last-minute change of location. It too failed to respond.
In 2021, as the investigative noose tightens, the University of Derby, Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service, and Derby City Council have refused to respond to multiple Freedom of Information requests on building control fire safety. All are currently under investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO has an option to escalate with a request for further investigation by the National Crime Agency.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is investigating potential regulatory breaches by numerous of the involved organisations’ lawyers, to include the lack of anti-money laundering procedures around the original build of the Copper Box building that was part-funded by offshore funds from the British Virgin Islands, Monaco and Isle of Man… and a £3.5 million loan from the city council.
Derbyshire Constabulary remains resolutely detached, having previously refused to provide details of procedures to initiate an investigation by an external force, despite both it and its previous Police & Crime Commissioner having evidenced conflicts of interest in a building in which police recruits were trained without any risk assessment.
The mystery of the PM’s speech is an interesting question but the focus remains on a multi-agency cover up of unlawful practices that knowingly put lives at risk, and the lengths to which public bodies have gone to protect those involved.
A fire escape was eventually completed in August 2018, three years after the University of Derby occupied the building. The involved law student suggested a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly constructed fire escape but was instead excluded for life from the University, without consultation or due process.
The Derbyshire Independent continues its campaign for a formal independent inquiry into who looked the other way whilst a six-storey building provided academic facilities to hundreds of students and police recruits without a fire escape being in place.