Sunday, 10 February 2013

Jacques le tueur de géants

Ye odde looking antipode... get ye back to feck!

I'm not one for an over-reliance on biblical euphemia...*  I'll admit, I've toyed with references to the former Chas Hes on the odd occasion but I don't recall majoring on the oft used David and Goliath analogy. I do, however, hold a long-standing passion for ancient myths particularly Greek mythology. I also have a soft spot for the Philistines. I was drawn firstly to their be-feathered headdress. As the origin of these peoples is steeped in mystery, this allowed me to develop what some might describe as a rather romantic notion of a multi-cultured group of seafarers - the Sea Peoples - brazenly alighting on the shores of what is today is known as the Gaza Strip.


The Philistines got a rather rummy deal from the authors of 'The Good Book': from the Health and Safety eschewing Samson through to the 200 Philistines' foreskin-smiting David. As a consequence, the word 'Philistine' became synonymous with dullardry and uncultured lumpenism, both higher odour concepts. And such is one's inclination for the historical underdog, a chap has more than a deal of respect for their heirs, the courageous and unbowed Palestinian people. But as always, and before I crow about my own victory in the higher courts of this land, I hazard reflective caution: it would be utterly disingenuous and decency-lacking to try and compare my paltry three year long battle in the libel courts against Graves and Vice Chancellor Martin Hall, with the nearly seventy year struggle for justice of the Palestinians, against the armed-to-the-teeth vicious attack dog of the US, the Israeli state.**

What an emminent libel Judge said...

To business. There is much in the Honourable Mr Justice Eady's decision that in my opinion raise highly pertinent questions. A chap of some park-bench-stench would encourage you to read the fullness of the Honourable Mr Justice Eady's judgement . Let's start with the basics. Hall and Graves' claim was "an abuse of the court's process." Mr Justice Eady states:

"I regard it as wholly unreal, and indeed an abuse of the court’s process, for these proceedings to continue on the basis that the only claimant is the University when the conduct to be examined in any plea of justification or fair comment would be that of Dr Graves and Professor Hall."(Para 11)


"It is in the light of this pleading that I have come to my conclusion that, in substance and reality, this is an action about allegations against individuals rather than against the University itself... I am not convinced that there is a “real and substantial tort”, so far as the University is concerned, or that the proceedings should be allowed to continue purely for the purpose of the University’s obtaining an injunction to stifle criticism of Dr Graves and Professor Hall (for that is what it is about)."(Para 23)

Mr Justice Eady is clear: "this is an action about allegations against individuals rather than the University itself" and the instigators of this action are Vice Chancellor Martin Hall and the Chief Operating Officer, his subordinate, one Dr Adrian Graves. It is they who have sought an injunction, according to Mr Justice Eady, in order to stifle criticism of themselves.

The Seven Principles of Public Life

Hall and Oates
Hall and Graves as senior managers of a publicly funded University are 'entrusted with funds, both public and private'. They subscribe to the Nolan Committee's 'Seven Principles of Public Life'. I know this to be the case because its emblazoned on their Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Senior Officers. The Nolan Committee classes Higher Education institutions as 'public bodies'. The preamble to the Seven principles of Public Life (SPoPL) state:

"The principles of public life apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder. This includes all those who are elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally, and all people appointed to work in the civil service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, NDPBs, and in the health, education, social and care services. All public office-holders are both servants of the public and stewards of public resources. The principles also have application to all those in other sectors delivering public services."

Any reasonable person would conclude that that Hall and Graves are public office-holders because they are appointed to work in... well higher education. One of the Seven Pillars of Public Life is 'Selflessness': "Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest...". Have Hall and Graves acted in the public interest in pursuing this libel claim in the name of the University of Salford? I submitted to the Court of Appeal that there was no public interest in allowing this claim to proceed. The claim showed no nexus between the reputations of Hall and Graves and the reputation of the University. I further submitted that it should therefore be struck down by the Court. It is clear from Mr Justice Eady's judgement that he was in agreement.

Openness... the antithesis of shuttedness?

'Openness' is also a key principle of the SPoPL. It states: "Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner."

Graves (above) with Hall wanted an injunction against this
blog to stifle criticism of ... er Graves and Hall according 
to a top libel Judge. It's not known if he was
still smiling after the Court's decision
Many people reading this blog will be wondering why the two did not initiate an action in their own names and therefore fund it themselves? Others might be asking, who advised them to initiate the action in the name of the University of Salford? In my oral submissions to the Court, I made it clear that a claim in the University's name would serve to indemnify Hall and Graves from a potential costs liability, and act to protect them from negative publicity if the libel claim failed. But there are further compelling questions.

Questions... questions... questions...

In 2009 and again in 2010-2011, I made two separate Subject Access Request to the University for all information concerning me, held by the University. I have not received any documentation that suggests that the launching of the libel action against myself, was discussed officially at any University Council meeting. Indeed, I've asked on this website for such a record, minute or note of any such meeting to be supplied to me. None has been provided to me by either Hall, Graves or any other senior manager or employee of the University. Nor can I find any record of it in the minutes published online.

In order to ensure that'[h]olders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner'?, did the two people central to the launching of this libel claim, Professor Hall and Dr Graves, and former University Council member Ian Austin who acted in his legal capacity for the University***, ensure that the serving of Letters of Claim on me in March 2010 and the launching of this libel claim in the name of the University in 2011, were discussed and debated fully by the University governing body, the University Council? If so, can they point this particular libel claim diminisher to the minutes of just such University Council meetings and/or the full record of such discussions and decisions taken by the University Council in agreeing to the launching of the libel claim?

More importantly, given the sheer cost of this failed claim, prior to launching the claim did Hall and/or Graves, or any member of University Council inform the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE)?  It is after all a rather large sum of money. Neither Hall, Graves or indeed Mr Austin have ever denied that the University have funded this claim.
What is to be done?

So what has Professor Hall's and Graves' libel claim cost? It's certainly been an expensive adventure costing in the many tens of thousands of pounds, quite possibly exceeding £100,000. In the spirit of the Seven Principles of Public Life, ie 'Openness' and 'transparency' may I suggest someone immediately makes a Freedom of Information request for the exact figure? Even better, maybe Professor Hall or Dr Graves could make public the full costs to date of their failed libel claim?

Hall and Graves have made much since 2009 onwards about the need to cut staff and staff costs because of the cuts in funding of around £3.5 million. According to reports, Hall was reported as trying to justify the cuts saying that '58% of the University income is spent on funding staff'. In light of the huge sums spent by Hall and Graves on this failed libel claim, this must surely ring a little hollow to those staff who've recently lost their jobs?

A clarion call for at least two official investigations

I am of the opinion, in light of Mr Justice Eady's verdict, that given this huge waste of University funds, there should be an immediate inquiry into who exactly made the decision to allow University funds to be used to launch this libel claim. I will be writing to HEFCE asking as a matter of urgency, that it initiate its own investigation into this use of University funds in this way. I will also be writing to the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, asking that he initiate a full investigation into this matter.

The failure of this misguided libel claim is in my opinion such a serious issue, that it must merit the immediate resignations of Vice Chancellor Martin Hall and Deputy Vice Chancellor Adrian Graves.

Notes and Resources

* Quite possibly the plural for euphemism and/or Euphonium
** Worth laying another myth to bed: yes I'm afraid, having a rather critical view of Israel and Zionism doesn't automatically make one an anti-semite as some would have us believe.
*** The Court heard how Mr Austin's tenure as a University Council member ended in June 2012

Usual disclaimer: This work is and expression of opinion on a matter of public interest and contains the opinions of the author. It is intended to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents, photos and video images herein is to provide humour and accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing or Fair Use. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested (email below). 

 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. 



  1. If I might suggest, an FOI request can be done via the site, The reason I suggest this rather than a direct letter to the University is because this will tend to discourage or prevent the University from trying to hide or cover up their response, especially if they are inclined to reject the FOI request in its entirety or in part.

  2. Just to play devil's advocate. Standard practice in Universities is for the governing authorities (the Council and the Executive Team) to agree on a scale for expenditure approvals. That is, any expenditure above a fixed level (for example, £5,000) must go to the Financial Director, and anything above a further level (say £50,000) must be signed by the Vice-Chancellor, and anything above a higher level still (usually substantial) must be directly approved by University Council.

    Accordingly, it is quite possible that there was no requirement for Hall to seek approval from Council to instruct, er, Counsel. He may have been entrusted with sufficient delegated authority to do this of his own accord.

    As to how the mistake occured (the University being the claimant, rather than the individuals), Mr Ian Austin was the instructed solicitor. I think it would be fair to say, he is not a specialist in defamation law. It may have been (but may not have been) his advice to issue the claim in this way. I do not buy the argument that Hall wished to avoid the embarassment or to avoid having to seek the approval of Council for launching the claim. How many times has Council overruled him in the past? None from what I remember. If it was an issue of his securing consent, that does not seem to me to be a particular obstacle in issuing the claim under his own name (with University funding). He will also have substantial legal liability insurance by virtue of being both Chief Executive and Trustee of the University.

    It is likely more mistake than design. I am glad the case has been struck out, although I think we have been deprived of what promised to be an excellent trial.

  3. The response I got from HEFCE under similar circumstances:

    In other words, HEFCE has a history of standing behind university officials using public funds to defend their reputation. So be prepared for a similar response, though in your case, the amount spend is surely more than in the matter of the WIPO case by Kingston.

  4. Naughtiness on naughtiness, the money may not have been wasted (at least from the point of view of Messrs Hall and Graves), in the sense that it was spent on Ian Austin. Just as public bodies cannot bring libel claims in their own right, so also they have to comply with a pesky thing called public procurement law.

    For the moment, legal services are within a category known as "Part B" services, meaning that they don't have to be the subject of a fully regulated procurement process - but they do still have to be fairly, openly and transparently competed. It is a fact, plain and simple, that Ian Auston was instructed on this particular ugly piece of litigation because of his (now former) position with the University, and not as the result of any procurement-law-compliant competition. This is a breach of the law.

    Combine the fact that the money spent by the University on this futile, self-serving (for Hall and Graves) and toys-out-of-pram libel action should not have been spent at all, with the fact that the way in which it was spent was itself illegal, and phrases like "misfeasance in public office" start to spring to mind...

  5. As someone who whistle-blowed against their employer and in support of their university (for some the same entity), who then lost his job (an Employment Tribunal will look at the evidence and decide on what was the likeliest explanation - but the claim it was redundancy is laughable in my view), I have been warned about vindictive acts that could follow if I were no to win my ET claim. I must admit, that in these circumstances, the above decision is heartening.

    My other comment is that the process takes too long. I am supporting a family and had to start new employment etc. I was happily able to do this. But sometimes it is not as easy and then the person who wishes to make a plea for justice has lots to lose until the tribunal decides. Also, I am finding out that the process is not trivial, so most will need advice. Good advice can be costly, though I feel privileged to have knowledgeable advisers who have been supporting me for the cause of justice.

  6. I worked 12 years at the University of Salford and they forced me, by terminating my contract, to leave!! All because they university is supposedly short of cash YET they were in excess of £30 million in profit 2011/2012, spending large sums of money on new buildings and refits, giving all high level bosses large bonuses AND cutting wages of the people who do all the work and make the university successful. I was forced out because I dared to stand up to them. I applaud you, Dr Duke, at last the "monkeys" in charge are exposed as the fools they are.

  7. After several years working in an underpaid role, taking on more responsibility and tasks, whilst also knowing that job security was balancing around me, I got up and left Salford in 2012 after a long and happy career there. Yet, suddenly after moving to a new [correctly] paid role at a rival University, I discovered something called the 'weekend' and 'after-work'. My relationship with family and friends has never been better, and can actually get home to play with my 4-year old instead of missing out on his childhood as was the case a year ago. Well done Dr Duke for being so outspoken and standing on principles. I'm sure that the relevant action will be swift and correct from here onwards.

  8. Congratulations Dr Duke for finally getting some common sense resolution out of this whole sorry affair. How you have kept going throughout all this ridiculous furore I cannot imagine with the whole might of a large institution seemingly against you. I was one of the 'almost 500' made redundant by graves' hatchet and though I am now in a far better place (ie out of HE and working for a charity!) I am so thrilled to see the eventual downfall of that vile excrement on humanity. He may have wasted £150K on suing you (and yes - definitely do go back for ALL your costs!!!) but I know for a fact that he has cost the university hundreds of thousands more in getting rid of successive layers of management (golden handshakes, sex discrimination cases settled out of court etc) to say nothing of the millions wasted on his Media City Vanity Project. I raise a glass to you tonight!!!