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Love York Award-winning student encouraged dishonest campaigning in YUSU referendum

Image: Baluga Photography
Image: Baluga Photography
Lucas North (left) and Mia Shantana Chaudhuri-Julyan, former Community & Wellbeing Officer of the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) (right), at the Love York Awards 2018, held at the Joseph Rowntree Threatre. Image: Baluga Photography

A student honoured for their “progressive ethos and dedication to underrepresented groups” at the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU)’s annual awards ceremony has been identified as the same student who was investigated by YUSU after proposing illegitimate campaigning in a referendum.

Lucas North, formerly the Managing Director of York Vision and a member of the Goodricke College Junior Common Room Committee, was investigated for misconduct during the referendum on the adoption of a Working Class & Social Mobility Officer held earlier this academic year.

As a result of their behaviour during the referendum period, North was the subject of an internal investigation by staff at the Students’ Union. Later, North disclosed to student journalists that they were forbidden from covering the subsequent annual Officer Elections, held in February, in a journalistic capacity.

The Deputy Returning Officer’s Referendum Report, published after the referendum, refers to a complaint alleging that:

[…] a member of ‘yes’ campaign infiltrated the ‘no’ campaign, deliberately tried to sabotage their campaign and encouraged a breach of referendum rules. The DRO spoke to both campaign leaders and the alleged student and received a large amount of evidence in support of the claim from the ‘no’ campaign and student media (Nouse). The leader of the ‘yes’ campaign was not aware of the individual students’ actions.

The Deputy Returning Officer concluded that the matter was brought to the attention of the External Returning Officer, an NUS official, due to its enormity.

North told The Yorker that the investigation into their misconduct, in addition to their candidacy in the elections, prevented their coverage for York Vision. However, they stated that they had also “provided support to Vision journalists and editors involved in editorial coverage, and managed the administrative side of coverage such as enforcement of the non-disclosure agreements signed by people involved in Vision’s coverage.”

Documentation and screenshots acquired by The Yorker show North, publicly in favour of the new position to represent students from working-class and low-income backgrounds, contributing to a Facebook group chat composed of students involved in the rival ‘No’ campaign.

Here, North offered to write a critical story on Connor Drake, a leading campaigner of the ‘Yes’ side and now one of the two Working Class & Social Mobility Officers of YUSU, and further offering to pay for additional campaign material at their private company’s expense.

Nouse reported these comments in November, but were unable to identify North as the person responsible.

“[Do] you want the piece about Connor to come out ASAP or just before the debate? (Or at the start of voting)[?]” North asked fellow campaigners against the proposed new officer role.

North further shared with the campaigners a draft article entitled “Referendum Campaigner Caught in Anti-Semitism Controversy,” which would claim that Drake had made comments in relation to Adolf Hitler’s alleged beliefs on Zionism, a controversy most recently made prominent in remarks made by the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

As detailed by Nouse and in the Referendum Report written by Nick Glover, the Deputy Returning Officer, this article would have been part of an attempt to “smear” Drake.

On this, North told The Yorker that

During the referendum I initially joined the “no” campaign, as I was not confident that the role would adequately address the issues faced by working class students and was worried it would instead be performative. At the first campaign meeting I attended, which I missed the majority of due to coming from another meeting, there had been discussion – by others – of releasing an article highlighting comments made by Connor Drake, the co-leader of the “yes” campaign, which were seen as anti-Semitic. I offered, after hearing about this, to write the piece for [York] Vision. The piece was stopped from publication in line with the YUSU Media Charter.

North added that it was the “general sentiment of the “no” campaign” that articles criticising Drake should be penned “by a process of strategic leaks to campus media” – when a piece was prevented from publication the way the campaign leadership wanted it to be, the fact that they had tried to release the piece was reported on instead.”

North told The Yorker that “My involvement in this was minimal, and much less than others.”

At the time of the referendum campaigning, North also informed a smaller group of campaigners that they “[had] a way” to “spend more than the £80 limit,” referring to the official YUSU limit on the amount of money that campaigners can spend on campaign resources. When invited to explain, North referred to their “limited company” and that “we’re allowed to buy things from it”.

North, also known as Mehmet Beyoglu, is the director and secretary of North Services Ltd., which describes itself as a “York based IT Consultancy and Web company, offering web hosting and development at competitive prices[…]” An investigation by The Yorker has revealed that North Services Ltd. provides the web domain for York Vision, the student newspaper of which North was once Managing Director.

North suggested that their company would charge less than other providers. When a fellow campaigner wrote that this would be saving money rather than spending beyond £80, North added that “It would be a way of reducing receipts[.] Essentially I’d buy and then sell it to you, and the receipt might not represent the amount paid.”

North told The Yorker that they had “never made a direct offer to pay for campaign materials” at their own expense, “but said in a message to the leader of the “no” campaign and someone heavily involved in its leadership that I knew of a way to avoid the spending rules.”

North added that their motive for suggesting a way to circumvent campaign spending limitations was to lure the “no” campaign into committing misconduct, which would provide their newspaper, York Vision, with a story:

[…] after numerous messages in the campaign group chat which had indicated the “no” campaign may be willing to break the rules […] I intended to use the message – if taken up – to form an article in Visions planned “referendum of horror” coverage of the referendum, which never went ahead due to other issues. I believed this to be in line with best practice recommendations on journalistic “sting” operations. Screenshots of these messages were released to YUSU and Nouse after I changed sides – as a way of getting back at me for defecting. I now understand that there should have been a much more involved process before attempting such a “sting” piece.

At the Love York Awards 2018, held on June 7 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, North was awarded the ‘Extra Mile Award’ by Mia Shantana Chaudhuri-Julyan, the YUSU Community & Wellbeing Officer. The ‘Extra Mile Award’ was awarded to five students by each Sabbatical Officer, based on criteria related to the Sabbatical Officer’s role. Chaudhuri-Julyan’s award honoured:

[…] an unrecognised individual student who has devoted their time on any scale to promoting unity in diversity, advocating for an under-represented group or simply inspiring others with their progressive attitude and passion for social justice.

Chaudhuri-Julyan told the audience that the award’s winner had been a “a vital part of several YUSU networks” and “heavily involved in the NUS[.]” She went on:

This individual, in my opinion, does not get nearly enough recognition for their progressive ethos and dedication to York’s underrepresented groups.

Chaudhuri-Julyan did not respond to The Yorker‘s request for comment before leaving office earlier this month. When The Yorker asked North whether, in light of their misconduct, they felt they were a deserving recipient of the award, North responded:

I have never publicly stated that I believe myself a deserving recipient of any award. In fact in my acceptance speech I stated that there were “many” people who deserve the award and that I was shocked to have received it. I believe the award reflected three years of demonstrable commitment to student wellbeing at York, as well as involvement in national and international campaigns and organisations. If I am asked to return the award I shall do so, however no such request has yet been made.