Thursday, 1 March 2012

A libel claim and the peculiar case of cobwebs in the resources department

Tuesday 6th of March 2012 at 11am may prove to be a rather interesting anomaly. It does of course have nothing to do with calibration of the remainders of the days necessary for the retention of calendarical purity. Nor does it involve the synchronous alignment of several far flung celestial bodies whose combined gravitational fields will in all likelihood wrench our own spatially located rondure from its sun-centric circumgyrations, whilst in the process causing all manner of gravitationally induced tectonic mayhem and possible further delays on the M25. No, that's going to happen in December. We Vagrants refer to the hearing at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, for our application to have struck out the current and ongoing libel claim against a certain chap of no fixed teeth. The grounds for this application are largely(but not exclusively) located in the Civil Procedure Rules at 3.4 (2) (a) and 3.4 (2) (b) and has been covered in more detail on previous postings here and here.

The pisser in the wind

Many well-wishers well versed in the arcane field of defamation law are surprised that it has gone this far given the Overriding Objective introduced as part of the Civil Procedure Rules in April 1999. The Overriding Objective was introduced to ensure for example that parties involved in civil actions are on an equal footing, which clearly is not the case. One issue raised in the application to the court was that 'the claimant is using that process for a purpose that is in a way significantly different from its ordinary and proper use'.(1) Given the complexity of this claim, the success of this application may well depend on whether the judge is versed in defamation law and proceedings. Like an asthmatic night soil attendant, we are not holding our collective bear breaths.

Night soilers... nothing whatsoever to do with shite-ing the bed

The interstices between paid employment and the truth

It is, however, incumbent upon a chap to raise the prickly matter of  the funding of the University's libel claim. Clearly there is an inequality of arms. Hall and Graves have access to apparently unlimited sums to pursue this action. They can do this because they claim writings on the blog Rat Catchers of the Sewers have damaged the reputation not of them, but of the University. This is vehemently contested. We have argued and will argue on Tuesday, that Hall, Graves and the reputations of the Executive Committee (formerly the Strategic Leadership Team) do not equate to the reputation of the University. Like the porters and professoriate employed by the university, Hall and Graves are correspondingly employees of the University.

Yet the contrast in resources is stark. The chap on the receiving end so to speak, has a surfeit of cobwebs in the financial resources department which is very nearly a medical complaint. So the £80 cost involved in making this application, given the large sums spent so far is a considerable sum to one who currently exists within the interstices between positions of active employment.

The wonderful life

Yet despite the obvious elemental imbalance of resources, there is every likelihood that the libel claim instigated by Martin Hall and his subordinate Graves will fail and fail spectacularly at that. It's got something to do with a rather large body of 'evidence' we've collated. And oddly enough, like the wine procured from the grapes of a bountiful vine, lovingly cared for by a Gitane-smoking grape tenderer in an idyllic Burgundian vineyard, this evidence just keeps on flowing into our beautifully maintained and copious files of defence.

The postman always rings twice when a chap's in the shower...

Every week brings something anew and with this anew-ness comes surprises. This week it was one or two responses (five in total) on the What Do They Know Freedom of Information website, from the University of Salford - Manchester's own Mr Matthew Stephenson. We're decent chaps really, although one or two of us reek a little as we don't have access to a walk-in wetroom. So in the line with our policy of being rather pleasant and manners-imbued, we'd like to take the opportunity here of thanking Messrs Stephenson, Graves and blogger Hall for providing this information to the public, albeit after being told to do so by the Information Commissioner. You can visit the ICO's decision here.

The Registrar

We invite the regular partakers of our pitiful meanderings to consider the new video of Dr Graves below. 

It clearly isn't going to get much in the way of sustained airplay on MTV despite its obvious appeal to the 'yoof market'. And some might be asking why blogger Hall isn't relaying this good news personally to staff? And we're guessing that readers including former colleagues of a certain chap of no fixed income might be asking, 'what on earth has this breakfast spoiler got to do with matters of a libel nature?'

The cobwebs in the resources department (part II)

Well, staff over a cup of piping hot coffee or two, have every right to consider carefully the content of Dr Graves' words:

"You know we're in difficult times with major budget pressures, but also an incredibly uncertain and challenging public sector and public policy environment for universities. And that is, in itself, a significant enough driver for changing universities - and many are doing that. But in this University we've got an urgent need now to rationalise our College and School administrations to make them more efficient and more responsive to our students and better equipped to serve the academics who teach and research within the Colleges and within the Schools."(2)

Firstly, we like Graves' idea of 'changing universities'. We're not entirely sure what you could change a university for? Given the talk of 'drivers' maybe a 1978 Ford Granada estate? Or maybe a 1967 Morris Traveller with renovated ash timber framework in a sort of mock-Tudor style. Maybe the Hall/Graves continuum would like to change the university for one that's going up the standard league tables? It's a thought.

We like the word 'driver'. Professionally speaking it has its equivalent in the word 'chauffeur'. And we're keen to state for the record that the two 'drivers' of this libel claim are blogger Hall and Graves. The President of the UCU at Salford Chris Sheehy, may well feel justified in asking Dr Graves why the 'major budget pressures' that appear to be one of the principal drivers of the policies of further redundancies at Salford, do not appear to be impacting upon the expensive libel claim that he and Hall have instigated and are pursuing through the Civil Courts.

The relevance

According to the current figures, the dynamic duo have invested a significant sum of University income into this libel case. They will invest a good deal more if the case goes to a full blown trial. Back o'er stamp calculations which are of course an approximation based upon costings presented to the court last year by the University's solicitor Ian Austin, suggest that they have already expended so far something approaching the cost of one academic's salary for a year (£40,000 +) or approximately five lots of student fees. Tuesday's four hour hearing will naturally drive this sum in a heaven-wards direction. But maybe that's a price worth paying? It has after all played a small part in keeping one solicitor and one barrister in work since 2010.

The end

Few could deny that in the face of the current global neoliberal onslaught on the public sector, that there's been a slashing in research funding and central funding from government across the wider University sector. Despite the half a trillion Euros handed out to the European banking sector by the European Central Bank (ECB) on the 29th February, we're constantly told money is tight. Given Salford's continued slide down the league tables and according to the Guardian's 2012 University Guide, one of the highest staff/student ratios in the UK HE sector, it is vital that the reputations of those who must ultimately take full responsibility for this sorry state of affairs are protected at any cost... isn't it?

Public Notice

You are cordially invited to attend a hearing into all things alleged libellous (but fiercely resisted) betwixt the two parties

University of Salford - Manchester

The flagrant quillard 
Dr Gary Paul Duke

11am prompt!
Tuesday 6th March in the year of our Lord 2012
Ye Olde Civil Justice Centre

Be'eth thereth or be'eth square'eth

Notes and references

(1) 'Supplementary Information to Support Application for Claim to be Struck Out' supplied to the Court as part of the Application made to the Court on the 20th December 2011
(2) The full transcript can be accessed at 
(3) Is it the case that these major refurbishments are at the root of the so called 'major budget pressures? Page four of the University council minutes provide an interesting overview of the loan arrangements arranged by the University. Of some interest are the conditions attached to the £35 million loan from Lloyds. See

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 and video images 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 and if necessary provide an apology. So, to save £££sss please avail yourself of this opportunity if you really feel it necessary, which you can do by clicking here.

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