Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A Libel Claim

The McLalford One

By now purveyors of this website will be aware that I am being sued for libel by the University of Salford. Yes it's now official! The claim was served upon me on day one of my recent (adjourned until August) Employment Tribunal. It was a nice touch if a little predictable. It's a very interesting case that The Claimant makes all of which we shall be exploring in greater of detail over the coming weeks and months. That is, as long as I can fend off an injunction restraining my good self and my 'servants or agents from publishing or causing to be published the same or similar words defamatory of the claimant.'(1) This I see as a gross calumny as being unemployed, I simply cannot afford any servants or chauffeurs and I'm not yet the Director General of MI5 as I've only just sent off my completed application. It never occurred to me that when first applying the quill of scrutiny to the yellowed parchment of accountability (the first January Vice Consul's Newsletter) that many years down the line, I would be vested with the unenviable role of defender of freedom of speech (FoS) and upholder of the right to criticise (RtC) without fear of penury at the University of Salford. But there we go. 

Now before I heave-to, I'd just like to state for the record that there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that Professor Hall and his immediate corporate subordinate Dr Graves are diligent and judicious officers of the University. Taking this nautical theme a stage further, few would disagree that steering such a great ship is vested with a great deal of authority and calls for decisive leadership skills. However, when it comes to matters of law it also calls for a deal of precision particularly when one sets in motion the formidable behemoth known as English Libel Law. One mentions this because one or two anomalies have emerged in the fabric of space-time situated directly over very specific geographical coordinates within the 'Particulars of Claim' sent to me by the University's lawyers. Being a generous chap, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share them with readers.

One is partial for certain particularities within the Particulars of Claim

One of the grounds for suing me for defamation is that I am alleged to have suggested through the use of words organised in a satirical fashion on a Rat Catchers of the Sewers blog "[t]hat Dr Graves and Professor Hall and therefore the claimant [the University] have acted wrongfully and unlawfully and in a secretive manner by keeping from the students and the general public matters which both the students and the general public are entitled to know."(2) The allegation is also made that through rearranging more words into critical satire with a hint of lampoonery and other writings on the Rat Catchers blog, I have stated that "the claimant's senior members of staff and therefore the claimant itself has deliberately flouted and ignored the law and its legal obligations and in so acting considers itself to be above the law and acts in a way that is above the law."(3) Pretty straight forward on the face of it.

One might also say with a degree of certainty that Professor Hall must have read through the 'Particulars of Claim'. I say this with some puissance because it appears to have his signature on it (see below). Now I'm generally regarded to be about as quick on the uptake as a tectonic plate in full reverse, but as I read and absorbed the detail of the claim something occurred to me that readers might be able to help explain. 

One signature from a Vice Chancellor and the facts stated are in his belief true

Dates are not the only fruit

On the 17th November 2010 I made a Subject Access Request to Mr Matthew Stephenson of UoS. Under an SAR, the University by law (Data Protection Act 1998), must provide all information and data that it holds on the requester. My letter went something like this...

Dear Matthew

Further to my email to you dated November 9th 2010, I enclose a cheque in the sum of £10 made payable to University of Salford in lieu of payment for a Subject Access Request under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. I would like you to supply me with all data held on me by the University between the period 1st November 2009 to the 17th November 2010.

I can appreciate the immense pressure that you must be under in your role as Head of Information Governance, and the volume of work that must pass through your office daily. With this in mind I have included below a list of the individuals/employees and former employees who may hold, or have held information pertaining to me or who have been involved in any University business pertaining to me. This list may not include all individuals/employees of the University that hold information on me. I would of course expect you to supply any information to me from individuals who are not included on this list.

I will not accept the claim that any correspondence that has been courtesy copied (Cc’d) to University solicitors or legal representatives is legally privileged and will expect any such information to be supplied to me under the terms of the DPA 1998.

Given the past reticence of University employees to supply all information held on me, as well as those who have lied claiming they hold no information, or indeed who have withheld information, only supplying such information when I have raised the issue with you - I refer specifically to my email to you dated 11th February 2010 - any dissembling such as this, or indeed any attempts to circumvent the legal obligations of the University under the DPA 1998, shall immediately be brought to the attention of the Information Commissioner. I also reserve the right to bring matters such as these to the attention of the Employment Tribunal panel, and to the attention of the Court in any future libel proceedings the University wishes to pursue against me.

Kind regards

Gary Duke

And the list went something like this...

Martin Hall
Adrian Graves
Keith Watkinson
Scott Mullholland
Mark Rollinson
Paul Jenks
Prof John Wilson
Ms Xiang Li
Prof Cynthia Pine
Alison Purnell
Ian Austin
Prof Michael Harloe
Matthew Stephenson
Phillip Hopwood
Simon Atwell
Linda Puttick
Heather Mortimer
Richard Morford
Paul Rowlett
Chris Wells
Alan Mawson
Tony Britten
Martin Bull
Prof Chris Andrews
Christine Sheehy
Phillippa Whitakker
Liz Bromley
Ms Lynsey Harris (any correspondence that is not privileged)
Phillip Benton
Edward Rowan (acting for the University in matters relating to Dr Duke)
Jamie Brown
Matthew Webber
Ricky Chotai
Paul Farrall
Jan McKenzie
Any correspondence between the University and the police concerning Dr Duke
All information held by University security or any third party security employed by the University
Any correspondence held by the University between itself and the UCU regional officials or now or past serving UCU branch officials concerning Dr Duke
Any correspondence between the University and any UCU reps and the University concerning Dr Duke

An authoritative letter received

After much to-ing and fro-ing, the sending of large numbers of documents to me (including many copies and some documents that had large parts and names redacted) delays, not sending documents I knew to exist, and vigorous letters to University lawyers, as if to draw a line under my request Martin Hall wrote to me on the 23rd February 2011. It was a nice gesture.

Another signature from a Vice Chancellor
Having received the Vice Chancellor's personal assurance that I had "all" the information I was entitled to, and there was nothing else to send to me, I girded my loins, grabbed the nearest jawbone of an ass and braced myself for the forthcoming battle in the Employment Tribunal. This I did in the knowledge that any documentary evidence held by the University that I might need to rely on in evidence, was safely in my own hands. However, it was with great alarm that the doorbell rang on Monday afternoon. This was odd as I don't have a doorbell. On the other side of the door was a postal worker who handed me a rather large bundle of documents and then walked off barely suppressing her imprudent laughter. This formidable bundle was from the Information Commissioner and supplied to me courtesy of a Subject Access Request made by me to the ICO around the beginning of February 2011. 

Should the owner of this finger plan an extension for all the extra documents?

The bundle contained lots of emails and documents but also included this...

...which is the top part of this and was signed by...

A quick refresher

There were a few documents in this bundle that I'd not seen before. They were from the UoS to the Information Commissioner and they concerned me. They'd have to as it's highly unlikely that the ICO of all people would supply me with documents about someone else. Before we journey any further it might be prudent to take a moment to refresh our collective RAM - part of the claim against me for defamation is that in their words, I am alleged to have suggested on a Rat Catchers blog "[t]hat Dr Graves and Professor Hall and therefore the claimant [the University] have acted wrongfully and unlawfully and in a secretive manner by keeping from the students and the general public matters which both the students and the general public are entitled to know."

Ever so slightly contradictory

This led to a question or two springing forth in the dysfunctional cerebrality of a serial Morrisons shopper like some irked Greek goddess of wisdom who's having to resit her GCSE in maths. Questions such as was Prof Hall aware before he affix't his signature to the 'Particulars of Claim' that his second-in-command had written letters to the ICO? Did he know that the ICO had taken the unusual step of having a face-to-face meeting with Matthew Stephenson and Alison Purnell which is recorded in emails between the ICO and the University? Did he know that the University's lawyers Pinsent and Masons had also written to the ICO on the 1st February 2011 explaining why the UoS had refused more FOIs on the grounds of vexatiousness prior to the ICO making his decision regarding my complaint against the University? He was clearly aware of the decision of the ICO as he'd received a letter dated the 7th February 2011 announcing the ICO's decision. It was all in the bundle and more.

Now I might be missing something here. Martin Hall is an honourable man and a man of integrity. As such he would never put his signature to a document called the 'Particulars of Claim' that was false or untrue? Clearly, if the University illegally withheld information that it was legally obliged to provide me with, then the suggestion that the University have acted wrongfully in keeping secret information that students and the general public are entitled to know would be proven. Of course this is all argumentative... little more than the highly abstract theoretical musings that are characteristic of an over-excited dialectical historian with pretensions towards heinous logorreah (look it up). But unraveling the ethical machinations within the higher echelons of University administration is almost a physical impossibility for someone who finds it challenging simply putting his trousers on in the morning. It may be the case that the Vice Chancellor did not know any of the above. If he did know then he is open to accusation of lying. If he did not know then the question arises as to why did his subordinates not give him the information?

Far from being 'a berk' Dr Duke is taking necessary preemptive precautions in the
event that Hall and Graves are successful in silencing his laptop...
An interesting question arises or does it?

Now a few more interesting questions have crossed a gin-soaked mind. Was Hall deliberately misled by his subordinates or was it incompetence? If the former then surely it amounts to gross misconduct? If the latter then whose incompetence? There is of course the possibility suggested by Hall that he considered that he did not have to provide any further information. If this was his opinion it would be interesting to know who provided this advice to him? This latter suggestion that Hall considered he did not have to provide any more information is somewhat undermined by the speed with which the ICO provided this information. Moreover, the ICO's response and the provision of specific documents gives lie to the idea that the University did not have to provide the information. The ICO's response shows that Hall's personal assurance, that I had been provided with "all" the information I was entitled to, was worthless. When the leader of an august institution such as the University of Salford writes, one can usually rely on its accuracy and veracity. After this incident can anyone place the same degree of reliance on what the University says? There may be a perfectly acceptable reason for all this, yet given the University's reluctance to share even material it's supposed to share with the great British public, please don't hold your breath waiting! I don't want to be on the end of a medical malpractice suit as well.

Dear Dr Duke... Dear Mr Stephenson...

Even now, despite the ocular evidence, the University denies it has any other information that according to Data Protection legislation it has to supply me with. Embarrassingly for the University, and, as if on the whimsy of a Paul Daniels or some other esteemed purveyor of magical entertainment like the long-deceased David Nixon, an email from Mr Stephenson arrived yesterday in response to an earlier letter from my good self to him dated 23 February 2011. It said:

Dear Dr Duke,

Your letter has been considered. The University’s view is that you have received all information to which you are entitled under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Yours sincerely

Matthew Stephenson

Maybe I should write back along the lines of "Dear Mr Stephenson. I did receive quite a bit of information to which I am entitled. The problem is that I did not receive all the information I was entitled to from you!

Yours faithfully

Dr Gary P Duke"

I think I'll not bother and save this one for the High Court.

(1) Page 11, Particulars of Claim signed by Martin Hall 28th February 2011
(2) Page 8, Particulars of Claim signed by Martin Hall 28th February 2011.
(3) Page 5, Particulars of Claim signed by Martin Hall 28th February 2011.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. sorry if I sound a little naive but unless it is private individuals who are bringing the action, doesn't a University come under the guise of a 'governing body' and therefore prevented from taking action under the Derbyshire rule? It is certainly a grey area somewhere in between a private company and a local authority - I would have thought the protection of free debate at an educational establishment would make it comparable to the latter.

  2. Can a University, as a public authority, sue for libel?

  3. That is the question...