Tensions at the troubled University of East Anglia have reached such a level that its acting boss was accompanied by a 'bodyguard' at a meeting with academics.

Christine Bovis-Cnossen, the acting vice-chancellor, arrived at a recent 'staff assembly' on the campus with a security agent.

The appearance of the guard, which was described as "bizarre" by many of those present, comes at a time of huge unrest and upheaval at the UEA.

It is dealing with a financial crisis which means it must make £45m in savings over the next three years.

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Several academic posts are under threat of redundancy and lecturers are threatening to take strike action.

Staff assemblies are meetings at which leaders can share updates and hear concerns from workers.

Because of the level of tension on the campus, around 300 people attended, with a vote of no-confidence in the university leadership due to be held.

The university says security arrangements were made for the meeting in anticipation of this attendance - with a previous staff forum being oversubscribed.

One of those present was Michael Frazer, an associate professor in political and social theory.

He said he was baffled by the presence of security.

"[Prof Bovis-Cnossen] came with what looked like secret service style security, with an earpiece in. It was quite intimidating," he said.

"It looked to me as if [the guard] was shielding the vice chancellor's body in a very presidential type of way."

The motion of no-confidence was carried by 89pc but the acting vice chancellor left before the vote could be debated, as she was escorted out of a fire escape by the security guard.

He then returned to the meeting.

Dr Frazer added: "It was extraordinary. There were audible gasps when she got up and left instead of staying to defend herself.

"One of the criticisms of this whole time has been the lack of transparency and secrecy and this just summed that up perfectly.

"We already felt as though we aren't being listened to and then we're left to debate among ourselves."

He went on: "When she left he escorted her out of a fire exit, which in itself was very unusual, then came back in afterwards.

"I only saw one security guard myself but he was talking in an earpiece to somebody so that says to me he wasn't the only one - unless he was talking to himself."

Another staff member, who did not wish to be named, said the meeting had left workers feeling ignored.

They said: "This follows previous incidents of one-to-one meetings being refused on safety grounds.

"We were just astounded.

"She came with security as if it was for her own wellbeing, but nobody was threatening to her personally."

A university spokeswoman said the security officer was present because the meeting was a large-scale event, and not to accompany the acting vice chancellor or chief resource officer Ian Callaghan, who was also present. 

But Dr Frazer said: "I've never seen security at a staff assembly before - you do see them about campus though.

"But it definitely didn't seem to me like they were there for the safety of the meeting."

The UEA spokeswoman said: "Assembly is open to anyone who holds a contract of employment with UEA and was attended by around 300 staff members."

She added that it was not appropriate for Prof Bovis-Cnossen to stay for the debate.

“The motion made explicit reference to the roles and it was therefore not appropriate for either individual to be present during these discussions.

"As with many large events held at the university, UEA security was present.”

It comes just over a week after a separate no-confidence vote was passed by members of the UEA's student union - with academics also threatening to strike.

Prof Bovis-Cnossen was appointed as acting vice chancellor in February after Prof David Richardson stepped down from the role as the financial crisis deepened.

Prof David Maguire has been appointed to the role full time, but has yet to take up the role.