Friday, 30 September 2011

The Code Breakers

"_ _ _ ....    
_ ...  _ _ _  ._..  ._..  _ _ _   _._.  _._  ..." 
Alan Turing

According to Mr Keith Watkinson's witness evidence delivered to the Employment Tribunal on the 16th August 2011 he stated that:

"Whilst I provided advice and support from a procedural perspective in relation to the implementation of the University's disciplinary procedure, I did not take any decisions with regards to the process regarding Dr Duke, nor did I seek to influence the disciplinary outcome... " (Pg2, sec 3)

He also said...

"...Whilst Professor Hall, Dr Graves and I were aware of the publications [the Vice Consul's Newsletters - GD], none of us played any part in the independent investigation or the formal disciplinary process." (Pg 2, sec 4)

The Watkinson Investigation

Readers of this blog are aware that I was suspended on the 18th May 2009 under the terms of the Disciplinary Procedure 2008. An official investigation commenced on the 21st May 2009 under the terms of the Disciplinary Procedure 2008. How odd it is then that on the 16th April 2009, Mr Watkinson, the current Executive Director of Human Resources at the University of Salford, should have signed a Privacy Impact Assessment form authorising the 'interrogation' of my work computer, my employee and student e-mails and associated employee and student file store. For the sake of clarity, this occurred precisely thirty two days before my suspension and thirty five days before the start of the official investigation by investigating officer Mr Scott Mulholland.
Dr Adrian Graves - MANCHESTER 

The incurable attraction of an anomaly

Anomalies have a rather convincing attraction for a certain quillard of no fixed employment, an attraction that stretches well beyond the sub-space variety so beloved of Star Trek fans and speakers of Klingon. And like Captain Picard, we might do well to explore a nether-region where no (wo)man may have dared venture before.

According to the above PIA which is not an acronym for Pissing In Action, it's not clear if Mr Watkinson took the decision to investigate my computer as he reports directly to the Deputy Vice Chancellor Adrian Graves. But he certainly authorised the investigation. It would be beyond the imagination to suggest therefore that he didn't clear this with his boss first. He also claimed that the justification for the investigation of my computer, emails and file store in general terms, was to prove that I had produced the January and March Vice Consul's Newsletters. In addition he stated that he was not proposing to advise me of this investigation as it might lead to me potentially:

'...deleting/wiping materials that would be necessary to determine this and therefore would prejudice the gathering of evidence required both to investigate the potential gross misconduct of Gary Duke and to investigate allegations made by Xiang Li.'

Egalité... legality... frugality... actualité...

First things first. Now I'm not quite sure what allegations Xiang Li is supposed to have made as the University have been a little frugal with the alleged complaint made by her or Wilson against me. Incidentally, this lack of complaint by Xiang Li and John Wilson, was confirmed by all the University witnesses including Watkinson. It was also confirmed that no notes of any alleged meetings between her and any other member of staff regarding this matter were taken. Certainly none were provided to me nor to the Tribunal. So what evidence and more importantly what procedure did Mr Watkinson base his investigation on? You see, I like many other members of staff and union members, were led to believe that the University had signed an agreed Disciplinary Procedure with the main campus unions in 2008. Under the conditions of this procedure, the task of evidence gathering when serious allegations are made, falls to a chap called the 'Investigating Officer'. Indeed just such a chap was duly appointed under the aegis of the University's Disciplinary Procedure around the date I was suspended as I noted above. And he was commissioned to undertake just such an investigation by... yes, you guessed correctly our... old chum Mr Keith Watkinson!

Yes, it clearly states at section 13 of the procedure:

'Before any disciplinary action is taken, an investigation into the circumstances will be undertaken by an appropriate manager, in liaison with a Human Resources Manager.'

and at section 13.3 of the procedure:

'Where a more detailed investigation is required, the manager should appoint an independent and impartial investigating officer to conduct the investigation and provide the manager with a report. The manager conducting the investigation will receive advice and guidance on the process from a Human Resources Manager.'

It also states at 13.6 of the procedure that:

'A member of staff who is the subject of an investigation will normally be required to attend an investigatory interview.' (Pg 9, sec 13.6)

What it doesn't say is 'an investigation into the circumstances will be undertaken by an appropriate Mr Keith Watkinson, in liason with a Mr Keith Watkinson'? Now I'm no Sexton Blake but I don't recall being invited to any interview by Mr Keith Watkinson with a Mr Keith Watkinson prior to Mr Keith Watkinson conducting this pre-investigation investigation at any time prior to or after 16th April 2009.

Buy one get one free?

In my considered opinion, a thorough re-reading of the PIA suggests that Mr Watkinson was using the opportunity of interrogating my computer to gather additional evidence of Ms Li's complaint against another member of staff, Dr Alex Belgorodsky. Clearly, the only record of a complaint by Xiang Li appears to be the one made against Dr Belgorodsky. Was Dr Belgorodsky ever informed that Watkinson was investigating my computer, emails and file store to gather evidence against him in support of Ms Li's unfounded allegations? Who knows. I was certainly never informed.

Official or unofficial?

So despite Mr Watkinson's claim in his statement that he wasn't involved in the independent investigation, it would appear that he was involved directly in a process of 'gathering evidence' against me in order to 'investigate the potential gross misconduct' of me in an independent investigation. Hmmm... Sounds very much like an official investigation to me but one conducted outside the established University Disciplinary Procedure.

To delete or to wipe... what's the best solution?

Shiny arse wipe or suspension?
Which would you choose?
What is rather intriguing is this issue of 'deleting' or 'wiping'. I'm reasonably good at wiping. My mum taught me well from an early age. But I have a troublesome question to pose. Readers might also be wondering why, if the diligent and non-investigative Mr Watkinson was so concerned about my capacity to potentially delete or wipe materials, did he not suspend me prior to his authorisation of his independent investigation of my computer, emails and file store in April 2009? It surely follows that if he had enough evidence to seek such authorisation to conduct an investigation with all the potentiality for breaches of the Data Protection Act and my right to privacy enshrined under the Human Rights Act, then he could have invoked the formal Disciplinary Procedure and suspended me as the University went on to do just over one month later?

The relative importance of time

As a political scientist with a clearly defined leaning towards historical absolutism - a sort of despotic inter disciplinarian - having the documentary evidence to hand, I can recognise at once that there is at play within this chronologic space-time continuum, an aberrancy of some magnitude. So large is it that the residents of three Borg Cubes have simultaneously applied for planning permission to develop. However, rumour has it that their application has already been pre-opposed by Basildon Council who have taken advantage of the recent Hadron collisions. When we consider section 3 of his witness statement, Mr Watkinson makes it abundantly clear that he's more than a little confused with regard to the timeline:

"On the 28th April 2009, Dr William Gullam, who had been employed as a Senior Lecturer at the University, sent an email to Professor Martin Hall, Vice Chancellor Designate, attaching electronic copies of the January and March 2009 'Vice Consul' newsletters. When Professor Hall accessed the documents' properties it was discovered that Gary Duke was identified as their author." (page 2, sec 3)

Two things to emphasise here: firstly Bill Gullam sent the email with the attachments to the Vice Chancellor Designate Martin Hall on the 7th March 2009 not the 28th April 2009 as stated by Mr Watkinson.*  How do we know this to be the case? The Deputy Vice Chancellor Adrian Graves says so in his email to former VC Michael Harloe dated 8th March 2009. So Hall, Graves and Harloe were aware whose name was adjacent to the word 'author' on the PDF's on the 'pamphlets' on or around the 7th and 8th March 2009.(1) This discrepancy in the dates was raised twice during the Tribunal. Both Mulholland's and Watkinson's statements were amended accordingly.

Plurality or singularity?

On the first page of the Privacy Impact Assessment, Watkinson states that the reason he wants to interrogate my computer, emails and file store is to determine if I had produced the January or first Newsletter:

'There is a very strong likelihood that Gary Duke produced the second pamphlet. It is suspected he produced the first... [i]t is proposed to interrogate Gary Duke's University email account and in addition his University PC to find out whether he did produce and disseminate these materials...'

Why is Mr Watkinson apparently in the dark with regard to the discovery of my authorship of the January and March Vice Consul's Newsletters? Dr Graves' rather recondite missive to Harloe states in the most unambiguous terms that the 'PDF's' were made by Gary Duke, who is a UCU member and the leading light of SUDE...' which might indicate a certain plurality of pamphletery. Dr Graves, who even at this early date appears very knowledgeable about my good self, my trade union membership and my activities as a member of SUDE, also cleverly uses the word 'two' in the context of the word 'pamphlets'. It would seem beyond the combined writings of Jules Verne to suggests that Dr Graves, the second most important human being at an executive level at Salford who it would appear has such a keen eye for detail, would not seek to pass such vital information to Mr Watkinson before he investigated my computer, email and file store?

The interrogative lottery

My dear Watkinson.. it's elementary even to the
most base dullard's the chap 
over there with the quill
Of course there is a possible alternative explanation. It's rather fanciful but let's run with it. Mr Watkinson seems pretty certain that I was central to production of the Vice Consul's Newsletters. After all, he did focus on my computer and emails and not those of Professor Peter S Hite. How did he know? It's not beyond the realms of the supremely ridiculous to solicit from our fevered imaginations a facsimile of an alternative Mr Watkinson. Through bloodshot occularities ravaged by an unnatural dependence on the opium pipe, we might espy a whimisical but earnest Watkinson graced with twill deerstalker, a matching sleeved cape, teeth-clutching a smouldering churchwarden pipe. We imagine him busily diffusing the room with the acrid stench of a shag, whilst whiling away a raft of spring afternoons wading through the entire University repository of written work produced over the last forty or so years by every single member of staff at Salford. Why? To match writing styles? In an alternate dream state and we might also imagine Mr Keith Watkinson entering the names of all staff at Salford into an unusual form of interrogative lottery, where one name (thine own) is duly plucked from obscurity and a rather large hat in an act of almost divine intervention. Or is it the case that Keith is simply a ruddy good guesser?

Serious allegations of criminal acts 

In our last article, we explored the manner in which Mr Watkinson sought to maintain the objective position of the University in the eyes of staff, students and the press whilst I was being processed through the Disciplinary Procedure. We particularly focused on his release of his 'barbed' statements to the national press including unfounded allegations that were never any part of the official allegations against me. There appears to be a hint of continuity at play here. Let's examine the official ITSERT Investigation Authorisation Form completed by Watkinson on the 20th April 2009

Yes... it's official. It definitely states 'sexual harassment' and it's signed by Mr Watkinson

Now according to Mr Watkinson, the 'nature' of the 'alleged activity' I'm supposed to have indulged in goes something along the lines of an act known in the legal circles as 'sexual harassment'. It's illegal.

Yes... it also states 'criminal act of stalking' and it's also signed by Mr Watkinson

Never one to over-embellish a justification, Mr Watkinson added one other little gem I'm supposed to have engaged in. It's a little number more commonly known as a '... criminal act of stalking...' which might be better described as a form of harassment. This type of serious harassment is also illegal under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. These are serious allegations indeed.

The sheer significance of a Significance Rating

Now according to the wittily entitled ITSERT Investigation Authorisation Form located here, it states rather clearly that both allegations (as illegal incidents) would have a 'Significance Rating' of 'severe'. It also states that such illegal incidents must 'be reported to law enforcement agencies.' There's no room for manoeuvre here. If it's illegal it has to be reported. Did the assiduous Mr Watkinson report this to the police? We decided it would be best if Mr Longley were to ask him within the context of the Employment Tribunal: his answer "I have no idea." Mr Watkinson obviously takes his role as Executive Director of Human Resources very seriously particularly when making allegations of illegal activity to justify the searching of one's computer and emails. But we should never leave things to chance.

As it happens, I have a very good relationship with the postal delivery woman. She's chatty and so it is said, am I. Yet the curious thing is that I've never received any letter or summons from the police regarding this matter delivered by her trusted hand or any other hand for that matter. Nor have I been questioned by the police over any such allegations. Indeed, according to the University's own Freedom of Information sweetheart Matthew Stephenson, there has never been any contact between the University and the police regarding my good self concerning complaints of sexual harassment or any other matter. How odd?

The diligent and bearded Suffolkian Longley during a recent French sojourn.
He has acted in an unpaid capacity as this chap's adviser and Mackenzie 
person during the ET proceedings as the UCU would not fund legal representation
Allegations that could amount to defamation...

When it comes to the Executive Director of HR making such serious allegations against a member of staff on an official authorisation form, a form that will be almost certainly be read by other members of staff involved within this process at this person's place of employ, one would of course seek to ensure that any such allegations were based upon clear and unambiguous evidence wouldn't one? After all, if Mr Watkinson made such allegations that are not supported by those little things called er... 'facts', it would almost certainly result in such allegations being defamatory. And once transmitted to staff via email, they would be actionable. And we are well aware of the strong views held by  Dr Graves and Vice Chancellor Martin Hall's views on defamation are we not?

Not one to make cavalier allegations against an esteemed member of staff such as Mr Keith Watkinson, both I and the diligent Suffolkian Longley thought it best to test Watkinson's evidence in seeking to ascertain if he had indeed made serious and potentially defamatory comments.

The volte face of Mr Keith Watkinson

Mr Longley enquired of Mr Watkinson if Xiang Li had made a complaint of sexual harassment against me. Mr Watkinson stated that no allegations of sexual harassment had been made.  He also stated under oath that he never had a copy of any complaint made to the police about me over this matter. Just to clarify the situation. The persistent Mr Longley stated for the record to Mr Keith Watkinson, that there was "no evidence that Dr Duke stalked Xiang Li" to which the Executive Director of Human Resources Mr Keith Watkinson responded for the record "no".

The lies of Mr Keith Watkinson

So just to be clear, the Executive Director of Human Resources, Mr Keith Watkinson admitted under oath at the Employment Tribunal that there was no evidence to substantiate his allegations on an official ITSERT Investigation Authorisation form that I had sexually harassed or criminally stalked Xiang Li. I want to be generous here but frankly I'm finding it a little difficult. It is an admission in an Employment Tribunal by Mr Watkinson that he lied in order to gain access to my computer, my emails and file store. Oh dear...

The Code Breakers

Should we be surprised? Yes and no. In previous articles we have shown how the University decided to breach their own Codes:

  • Their Code of Practice in Dealing with Harassment and Bullying. They did this by not taking any complaint from Xiang Li and Professor John Wilson, by not providing me with a copy of such a complaint and by not taking any record of Mr Watkinson's alleged meeting with Xiang Li. They simply took the decision that it was they who would decide what was harassing and bullying. The Code therefore became an irrelevance. Scott Mulholland's official investigation started from his belief that the Newsletters were self evidently bullying and harassing. His role switched from investigator to one of confirmer. All he therefore had to do was to simply prove authorship and distribution.
  • They breached the the 2008 Student Disciplinary Procedure when they sought to make the ultra vires appointment of Professor Cynthia Pine to investigate the allegations made against me by Vice Chancellor Harloe as part of the dual action instigated against me under the student disciplinary procedure. Their own internal legal adviser made it clear to the University that they'd stepped outside their own student procedure, yet despite this, Dr Graves and the University sought to proceed and exacerbate the breach of their own 2008 Code of Conduct for students.
  • Through the Watkinson Investigation, the University and Mr Keith Watkinson didn't feel it necessary to utilise their own 2008 Disciplinary Procedure in order to gather evidence against myself and equally importantly, to gather evidence against Dr Alex Belgorodsky who had been suspended in March 2009 over an entirely separate matter. On the Privacy Impact Assessment form Watkinson clearly states that he wished to use the investigation of my computer and emails to gather evidence '... to investigate allegations made by Xiang Li...' which it is clear, refer to complaints she made against Dr Alex Belgorodsky. This is profoundly odd as the investigating manager who was vested by the University in conducting an investigation into the allegations made by Xiang Li against Dr Belgorodsky was Dr Ruth Wright. And for the record, Xiang Li's complaints against Alex Belgorodsky were not upheld by Dr Wright.

Secret investigations...

We have shown through the judicious use of evidence and incisive questioning at the Employment Tribunal that the University ran a parallel and secret investigation - the Watkinson Investigation - outside the parameters of the 2008 Disciplinary Procedure. Keith Watkinson ignored a key provision of the University's own ICT Acceptable Use Policy (V 3.0, sec 6.3) in that he alleged I had sexually harassed and stalked Xiang Li, both criminal acts which he was duty bound to report to the police. Why did he not inform the police? To do so would have both alerted me to the allegations and of course the independent investigation by Watkinson. If it had not resulted in an independent police investigation, at the very least, the police would have asked for evidence to substantiate his allegations of sexual harassment and stalking. Given that there was no evidence,  they would have concluded at the outset that there was no substance to Mr Watkinson's fallacious allegations.

Why did the University deem it necessary in the first instance to conduct such a secret investigation as after all the University could have invoked the Disciplinary Procedure and conducted this investigation as part of the official investigation. And let's be clear it was secret as it was never disclosed to me either before or during the official investigation conducted under the auspices of the Disciplinary Procedure. Nor was it was disclosed to me during the Disciplinary Hearing itself. This evidence only emerged because of Privacy Impact Assessments and the ITSERT documents received by me after I had requested all information held on me by the University under a Subject Access Request courtesy of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Secret hearings...

We've demonstrated how the University also ran what was for all intents and purposes a parallel and secret hearing one or two days before my official staff disciplinary hearing. The Tribunal heard that at this secret hearing, the two disciplinary panel members, the investigating manager and two HR reps (including a close associate of Mr Watkinson, Mr Paul Jenks) went through the evidence and the manner in which the hearing should be conducted. Worryingly, the Tribunal heard that the University's external legal advisers were also in attendance. This injection of external legal advisers directly into an internal disciplinary process does of course place the subject of any disciplinary process and action at a serious disadvantage and makes nonsense of the concept of an 'equality of arms'.

During this secret meeting, evidence was discussed with the panel members and new evidence was presented to second panel member Professor Tony Warne. Some of this evidence had been gleaned from my computer as part of the Watkinson Investigation. This secret and parallel hearing including the new evidence presented to Warne was not disclosed by the University to myself prior to the Disciplinary Hearing. Details of this evidence only emerged during the Disciplinary Hearing itself which placed me at a severe disadvantage. This was confirmed under later cross-examination of University witnesses at the Employment Tribunal. Is this what the University mean by the term 'Natural Justice'?

What is to be done?

The ramifications of the above and Mr Watkinson's actions and admissions are clear. Was the internal disciplinary process in any measurable way fair and unbiased? How on earth could it be? Professor Martin Hall has this evidence to hand including Mr Watkinson's admissions made during the Employment Tribunal. It's in the public domain. Has he instigated an internal or indeed an external inquiry into the above? I have received no evidence to suggest that he has.

I wrote to Chris Sheehy on the 1st September stating that I would be happy to provide copies of all the documentary evidence in my possession including the written notes taken at the Employment Tribunal to the UCU Branch at Salford. I also expressed my willingness to meet with her and the UCU regional officials to discuss these important matters. As yet, my offer has not been taken up by the union.

What should be done

By his own admission, Mr Watkinson the Executive Director of Human Resources lied when he stated on the ITSERT Investigation Authorisation form that I had sexually harassed and criminally stalked Xiang Li. He did this to gain access to my computer and emails. In my considered opinion, Mr Watkinson can longer remain as Executive Director of a department that is currently negotiating with the main campus unions over job losses and potential redundancies. Mr Watkinson must go.

Notes and references

* Bill Gullam has been a friend and colleague of mine for many years and forwarded the documents that were sent to him by an individual unknown to this author. Bill was concerned to demonstrate to Professor Hall who was scheduled to take over in September 2009 from Michael Harloe, the anger that existed among staff, the culture of bullying that existed within the wider University and the Salford Business School. Many thought at the time, that a new Vice Chancellor would bring with him a 'new broom' and would seek to address some of the contentious issues prevalent within the University as outlined in the Professor Gus John Report into Equality and Diversity and more recently in the TCM Group Report which has itself been suppressed by the Vice Chancellor, a matter I thought it pertinent to raise at the recent Employment Tribunal. At the time of writing, it's not known if any staff have returned their rose tinted spectacles to Martin Hall.

(1) Readers might wish to note Dr Graves use of the word 'guilty' within the context of who's responsible for publishing these documents in his email to Harloe of the 9th March 2009. The word 'guilty' does of course denote... well... guilt. Dr Graves could quite easily have elected to use the word 'responsible'. It is also clear that the attitudes of Graves, Harloe and Hall to the two Newsletters (two pieces of evidence used to prosecute a case against this author to the conclusion of dismissal for gross misconduct) is rather ambivalent. Might a reasonable person draw the conclusion that they did not view the Newsletters at this stage as quite as reprehensible as was later suggested? 

Usual disclaimer: This work is the opinion of the author and is produced in order to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents herein is to provide accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested. To make any such request press here.

The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. We have reams of documentary evidence which we are happy to provide. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections. So, to save £££sss please avail yourself of this opportunity if you feel it necessary, which you can do by clicking here

Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Fisherman's Rationale

Sheriff: 'Do ye swear to tell something that approximates the truth...'
Disinterested Smithy: Piss off!

True to our promise, this week we explore the involvement of one Mr Keith Watkinson in Duke-related matters of a disciplinary nature. For the uninitiated Mr Watkinson is the current Executive Director of Human Resources at the University of Salford. Mr Watkinson reports directly to Dr Adrian Graves, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Registrar. In the important position he holds, Mr Watkinson would work to what we might agree to describe as 'basic codes of professional practice'. For an idea of what this might or might not mean, readers may wish to visit the Vice Chancellor's blog. Given the sheer extensiveness of the documentary evidence to hand allied to his witness statement, we can only do Mr Watkinson justice in any real sense of the word over a series of postings.

Enter the statement of the Executive Director of Human Resources

It's worth noting that this supplementary witness statement was provided by him on the 6th April 2011 after two days of Tribunal hearing on the 1st and 2nd March 2011. Indeed he sat in on at least one day of the hearing. So it was written with the benefit of a certain degree of hindsight. The rationale for producing this statement was to provide the University with a response to a specific section of my own witness statement regarding a 'Without Prejudice' meeting the day before my disciplinary hearing. More on Mr Watkinson's interpretation of the events of this meeting at a later date.

The Golden Thread

On perusal, it became quite clear to us that Mr Watkinson addressed a whole raft of issues in his statement that were in our view well outside that originally requested by University lawyers - indeed in the region of twenty four additional issues! It was in our opinion an attempt by the University to counter contentious and sticky matters: what we might call 'smatter'. Much of this smatter was raised by previous cross examination of Phillip Hopwood and former Finance Director at UoS Simon Attwell. We were grateful for the University in providing this statement as it presented the opportunity to raise issues concerning the overall process in way the three other University witnesses could never do. Mr Watkinson provided the golden thread that ran through the general process . You can read his entire witness statement here

First contact

For those who have not had the pleasure of first contact with Mr Watkinson, he seems rather unassuming and during the Tribunal, he sported a rather fetching assortment of facial hair. But it's his involvement within the overall process including the disciplinary process of another certain frontal bristler we're concerned with, not his chin. So to business. According to his statement, Mr Watkinson's involvement within the overall process was rather limited:

'Whilst I provided advice and support from a procedural prospective in relation to the implementation of the University's disciplinary procedure, I didn't take any decisions with regards to the process regarding Dr Duke, nor did I seek to influence the disciplinary outcome.'(1)

Robin: Goodly sir..! does a game of passeth the shitty stick take your fancy this fine morn?
Moneybags: Bugger off!

He also claimed that neither he nor the Vice Chancellor Martin Hall or the Deputy Vice Chancellor Graves played any role in either the 'independent investigation' or the 'formal disciplinary process'. Parts of his statement read like the rules of a game called pass-the-shitty-stick, in which no player wants to get the rancid dog-toffee on their fingers. We will of course be exploring with a level of precision known only in the realm of quantum physics, the breadth and depth of Watkinson's 'advice' and 'support'. We will also scientifically explore (using a magnifying glass, some dental floss and a pair of tweezers) the relation these have to the 'procedural perspective' he speaks of. Mr Watkinson states that part of his role as the head of the  '...University's Human Resources Division is to advise members of staff in relation to when the disciplinary procedure might be relevant and to ensure that the disciplinary procedure is applied consistently throughout the University.'(2) This 'applied consistently' matter is something we will return to anon.

Breaches and seepages - not a new Oasis album

The Disciplinary Procedure appears to have been quite 'relevant' as it was used to suspend me on the 18th March 2009. Up until this moment, we might surmise according to the above claims, Mr Watkinson's role would have been reasonably minimal; a bit of advice here... maybe a bit of support there... To reiterate, despite the University's seeming inability to spot the difference between a poster and a newsletter, the production of the satirical Vice Consul's Newsletters was the reason for my suspension. The weekend before my suspension, I'd been contacted by the press twice. And when a journalist bandies around certain key phrases like 'you're' and 'being' and 'suspended' you know some thing's up. It's also indicative of quite a serious breach in confidentiality - what's known in the plumbing trade as a 'leak' - by your employer somewhere along the line, a sentiment which even the most debased 11th century village green illiterati might agree with. It was a potentiality that Watkinson and Graves appeared to take reasonably seriously.

The inevitability of urine and the press

Now I'm prone to leaks but these days they tend to be of a urinary nature. And the only briefs to which I subscribe are of the rubber variety designed to limit the concentration of uric acid on one's best riding breeches. In his statement Mr Watkinson alleges that in responding to these press enquiries, I was taking steps to proactively brief the press. One might argue that responding (answering the phone) to enquiries from reporters hardly merits being 'pro-active' on the press front and might in normal times indicate to an outside observer with a modicum of common sense that one was being a bit 're-active'.
Rather fetching wouldn't you agree?
And not a hint of piss

Establishing a point (or two) the Watkinson way

There are however two interconnected reasons why Watkinson might wish to establish this point. Firstly to demonstrate that it was I who was ultimately responsible for the report that appeared on the 18th May 2009 in the MEN, and not University staff such as 'Uncle Tom Cobbley and all' discussing my suspension in a public area within the University. Secondly, that the University were simply reacting to press reports pro-actively placed there by a certain distinguished wearer of brogues. Thus, in producing internal and external statements, they were acting reasonably, taking necessary steps to preserve and promote the University's reputation. Mr Watkinson's statement says as much at section 13. There is an additional factor when we consider his claim that in my responding to the above queries from the press that this 'added to the damage suffered to the University's reputation' (3) Note the word 'added' here. This is important in that it serves to underline the contentious matter of the alleged damage suffered by the University through the authorship of the Vice Consul's Newsletters. One might hypothesise that if they can prove 'damage', it upholds and underscores the rather nonsensical notion of 'bringing the University into disrepute'.

Producing 'barbed' statements

Now I'm naturally an inquisitive type. I've got documents coming out of orifices that have yet to evolve in humans. One document in particular shows that the University and... well one Mr Watkinson were making preparations on the 7th May 2009 to brief the press. You can view these 'preparations' here. It might be worth flagging up at this juncture that Watkinson emphasises in bold letters that the press release '... for the THE' is 'prepared in advance'. 'In advance of what?' you might ask. Eleven days in advance of my suspension and at least nine days before my alleged pro-activeness with the press. However, the case can be made that a diligent employer would prepare draft press releases in order to respond to possible enquiries from the press.

An itchy knacker and the meaning of the word 'barbed'

But like an indolent itchy knacker that demands attention just before one drops off - to sleep I mean, not the illustrious gonad - something greatly irked me. Scratching my head, I wondered what Mr Watkinson meant by the phrase 'I've made the THE release quite specific and a little barbed'? 'Was Mr Watkinson practicing some sort of arcane amalgam of personnel management crossed with coarse angling?' I pondered. What exactly did he mean by the use of the phrase 'barbed-ness'? For those not working within Higher Education, the THE or Times Higher is a national publication of some prestige which is well perused across the University sector.

Contrast and compare

It's worth comparing the Notification of Suspension with the internal release and press statements made available to the THE and Manchester Evening News by the University to see if we can determine any significant differences. Well for a start the words 'the content of these posters is sexist''defamatory' and 'viciously attack a female student of ethnic minority' were surprisingly absent from the official allegations made against me. The bit about 'potential sexual harassment' was also distinguishable by its non-existence. But one or three of questions continued to niggle.

Why on earth would Mr Watkinson want to add such 'barbed' statements to internal and external press releases? Quite keen to continue this conversation with myself I asked me 'Is this normal procedure?' and I further added 'Could all reasonable employees of the University, who might find themselves in a similar situation to myself expect the same sort of bespoke treatment at the hands of the Executive Director of Human Resources?' Finally I adjured of myself: 'Was the trashing of a chaps reputation a direct and necessary diametrical correlate of the process of '[p]reserving and promoting the University's reputation...' as stated at section 14 of Mr Watkinson's statement?

Why did I make it barbed..? why it makes it far easier 
to scratch one's arse you inquisitive wretch!
Questions... questions...  those damnable questions!

Instead of continuing to ask myself such questions, we decided a better tactic would be to use the opportunity of the Employment Tribunal to ask Watkinson which we did in August. The Suffolkian Longley simply asked why had he added the allegation of 'defamation'. Watkinson's response was even simpler: "I don't know". Asked "Why did you make it barbed?" his response again: "I don't know". Given his centrality to adding this 'barbed-ness', and given the seriousness of these unsubstantiated allegations against me, Mr Watkinson clearly didn't know much. Two thoughts crossed my mind. 'Was he prone to randomly adding words to statements?' 'Did he just throw in the unsubstantiated allegation that the Vice Consul's Newsletters were 'sexist' because he was at a loose end that particular afternoon?'

Alarm bells in the Ol' Fire Station?

Now one might have thought that the alarm bells in the Ol' Fire Station would have been hammering away in a determined yet melancholic rendition of V.E. Day. Surely Mr Watkinson's immediate line manager, Dr Adrian Graves, in order to ensure Mr Watkinson conformed to the 'basic codes of professional practice', would have emailed back a note that went something along the lines of 'Keith, cease and desist! Your actions in adding unsubstantiated allegations to press and internal releases, could constitute gross misconduct, could very well damage the reputation of the University thereby bringing it into some serious disrepute.' Well if he did, we were never supplied with such an email under document disclosure. There might be a very good reason for this.

Upping the ante executive style?

Let's just revisit Mr Watkinson's email once more. It's worth noting that it was addressed to Dr Adrian Graves (now Deputy Vice Chancellor) and the current Vice Chancellor Martin Hall. It might be of some value to point out at this juncture that at the time this email was sent, Martin Hall was the Vice Chancellor Designate not the Vice Chancellor. 'So why is he involved at all?' you might well ask.

What did the Vice Chancellor Designate think?

So let's just rewind this a little. The Executive Director of HR, who says his role is to provide 'advice' and 'support' on procedural matters pertaining to the Disciplinary Procedure is personally producing internal and external releases to the press in which he's added a thing called 'barbed-ness'. These internal and external press releases contain unsubstantiated allegations that never formed the basis of any of the official allegations made by the University against me as part of this disciplinary process. And evidence suggests Mr Watkinson was not acting alone. He asked for comments from the Chief Operating Officer Dr Graves and the Vice Chancellor Designate Martin Hall, who according to Graves' reply, commented on the text. How did Martin Hall respond? Did he say something along the lines of 'Keith, it might be better to simply stick to the allegations made against Duke as outlined in the letter of suspension, as barbed comments and unsubstantiated allegations might be prejudicial to ongoing proceedings?' We'll never know as zero emails from Martin Hall containing any pertinent comments on this issue were disclosed.

Eggs and another internal statement

Now a reasonable person might have thought "that's enough to be going on with now... anything else and you'll be in serious jeopardy of over-egging it." But there's a bit more, indicated by Mr Watkinson statement on page 4 and page 5, section 13. He states that another internal statement was produced by the University and sent by my Head of School Paul Rowlett to students whom I taught, in order to allay their concerns that the 'final stages of the modules were not jeopardised'. Four days after my suspension, on the 22nd May, this statement was indeed sent. Watkinson makes it quite clear that in sending it to students, it 'was a reaction to information disclosed to the press by Dr Duke.' Now this is not quite true as Mr Watkinson well knows. He confirmed under cross examination that the statement was produced and sent to my students in response to a petition they had organised in my support against my suspension. The heading of an email exchange is also eminently suggestive. It states 'Petition from Languages Students'. Yet it's also apparent and was raised in the Tribunal that even this statement was somewhat finessed and a section added prior to its sending. To view the 'before' and 'after' statement (which is at the bottom of the page) press here.

The Freedom of Information 'Champion' Dr Graves

It's during the process of discussion concerning what the content should be that Dr Graves plays a blinder when he exhorts Watkinson and other managers to 'slip in the fact that the allegations include the harassment of a female student of Chinese ethnic origin'. To access this email press right here. In his apparent eagerness to polish this little coprolite, Graves ignored a simple fact: the allegation contained in the suspension letter made no such reference to either Li's gender or Chinese ethnic origin. Now whichever way you look at it, it's not a bad representation of the University's 'FOI Champion' encouraging managers to disseminate a staff member's Sensitive Personal Information, which is of course protected under law - that piece of legislation being the Data Protection Act 1998.

What was the rationale behind Graves statement? In March, it was put to Simon Attwell by the amiable Longley that "Dr Graves' email was a deliberate attempt to smear Duke" and that Dr Graves was playing the racism card. Mr Attwell's response appeared to be an attempt to put some distance between himself and Graves when he stated that "I cannot be held responsible for the comments of Adrian Graves."

What about if I slip in the fact that he's solely responsible for the death of 
Bambi's mum, the disappearance of Flight 19 and that he 
was the second gunman on the grassy knoll ... oh yes.. I 
could also slip in that fact that he's a shite-hawk..?

Promoting respect, honesty and integrity at work

I've just re-read the University of Salford Disciplinary Procedure 2008 that Mr Watkinson places much store in. It states at section 1.1:

'...[t]he procedure is designed to encourage staff to achieve and maintain acceptable standards of conduct, to ensure the safety and well-being of staff, and to provide a fair and consistent mechanism for dealing with situations where misconduct is alleged.'

It also states at section 3.1.1 that 'members of staff are responsible for':

'... conducting themselves with, honesty and integrity to promote an atmosphere of mutual respect...'

I'll leave it to readers to decide if they believe Graves, Hall, Harloe and Watkinson have encouraged the former or conducted and promoted the latter.

Beyond the remit or beyond the pale?

By any reasonable metric tape measure, does the above not demonstrate that Watkinson went quite a way beyond his self-proclaimed remit in providing 'advice' and 'support from a procedural perspective in relation to the implementation of the University's disciplinary procedure...'? Is it usual procedure for the Executive Director of HR to produce press releases and barbed ones to boot? Maybe I've been misinformed but I thought the press office were employed to produce press releases. And what of his claim 'nor did I seek to influence the disciplinary outcome.'(4) which some might agree, rings rather hollow in light of the evidence.

The fisherman's rationale

As any serious fisher(wo)man would know that the reason for affixing a barb to a line is so that it sticks. The introduction of such 'barbed-ness' and unfounded allegations by Watkinson in an internal statement sent by the Vice Chancellor Harloe and in external press releases, was in the opinion of this author, designed to poison the well of public opinion and inflict as much reputational damage as possible. Managers at senior executive level were involved. In giving evidence Watkinson stated that both Vice Chancellor Hall and Registrar (now Deputy Vice Chancellor) Graves were "generally supportive" of the internal release. Martin Hall commented on the texts of these releases. Yet the documents supplied to us by the University under two Subject Access Requests have failed to produce any document to show that Hall intervened to stop their dissemination to staff and to the press. We've also seen how Dr Graves sought to add his own particular flourish in introducing the issue of Ms Li's gender and her 'Chinese' ethnicity into and internal statement to students I taught. Why? Because these students decided of their own volition to support me by producing a petition, and all my former students just happened to be foreign national students. We might ask how could such deliberate misrepresentation of the allegations fail to influence and prejudice the overall proceedings?

The author's opinion

You see I'm of the view that by publicly adding allegations that were not part of the charges against me, it ensured that the road to informal resolution, a principal component of the University's Code of Practice for Dealing with Harassment and Bullying, was closed. Why? Because a member of staff who is an effective and industrious campaigner against job cuts and course closures is one thing. A member of staff who is an effective and industrious campaigner against job cuts and course closures AND gets elected as the UCU Branch Secretary is another. How to deal with this? Inflict a serious degree of reputational damage and as a consequence, drive a wedge between the newly elected chap and the branch membership and union officials, a point made by the facially hirsute Longley to the Tribunal.

But this has never been about defending my reputation. It's about an employee of the University being able to answer to the specific allegations being levelled, and to have a hearing in an environment that wasn't prejudiced by the unfounded allegations and deliberate misrepresentations of Mr Watkinson and Dr Graves. It's not a big ask is it?

Notes and References

Usual disclaimer: This work is the opinion of the author and is authored in to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents herein is to provide accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested. To make any such request press here.

The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections so, to save £££sss please avail yourself of this opportunity if you feel it is necessary, which you can do by clicking here

(1) Witness statement of K Watkinson, dated 6th April 2011, pg 2, section 3
(2) KW; page 2, sec 3
(3) KW; page 4, sec 12
(4) KW; Page 2, sec 3

Enhanced by Zemanta