Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Whistleblowing academic cleared of harassing a Vice Chancellor

Good news that former lecturer at Kingston University Howard Fredrics, has been cleared in Kingston Magistrates Court of harassment. Fredrics had been accused of harassing the Vice Chancellor Sir Peter Scott via his satirical whistleblowing website sirpeterscott.com. Fredrics used his site to draw attention to less than Kosher practices at Kingston University.

Doesn't this sound a little familiar?

Does this victory prove that they are equally balanced?

Dr Fredrics was convicted in abstentia in December at Kingston Magistrates Court. Fredrics who was ill, could not appear on the orders of his GP. His barrister Mr Richard Thomas had argued that Dr Fredrics' right to a fair trial was compromised as the court refused to postpone the case until he was well. In addition a "compelling police report that indicated there was no evidence that the site contained anything that could lead to such a charge" was ignored by the court.

Although Dr Fredrics has been cleared of harassing Sir Peter Scott, he was convicted of a Public Order offence. This related to an incident in Kingston last year in which Scott claimed Dr Fredrics used 'threatening behaviour' towards him. Fredrics is considering appealing the conviction.

Money well spent

It is estimated that Kingston University spent in the region of £500,000 prosecuting their case against Fredrics. This is a great victory for freedom of speech. Yet what a pity that bosses at Kingston saw the need in the first place fit to impinge on this valuable freedom and choose this route.

With increasing frequency, university managers are using the law to quash vital and justifiable debate in order to hide from public scrutiny, questionable practices. Given the fiscal restraints being placed upon the Higher Education sector, we can most assuredly expect many more cases such as these as senior managers seek to redress the wider trends towards greater accountability whilst maintaining their positions of power and their privileged lifestyles.

Where's my chauffeur?

Sadly victories such as these will overshadow the many defeats among those who have little choice but to battle on alone, unable to muster the vital resources and the legal heavyweights necessary to combat often vindictive and unscrupulous senior managers.

Nevertheless, this is indeed a valuable and well deserved victory not just for Dr Fredrics but for us all. And we must congratulate him for his tenacity and single-mindedness. Fully savour the moment.

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