A libel action brought by Salford University against former lecturer, Dr Gary Duke, has been thrown out on appeal by the High Court.
Basically, the University of Salford brought the action against Gary Duke, arguing that in his blog, Rat Catchers of the Sewers, he had libelled the University.
The judge, Justice Eady, ruled that Duke hadn't libelled the University at all. Rather, his satirical jibes were aimed at Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Adrian Graves - and in some cases, the University "is portrayed almost as a `victim' in the sense that its best interests are being damaged by those identified as the culprits."
The `culprits', identified as mainly Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Adrian Graves, were accused in the blog of everything from sticking a finger up at the Freedom of Information Act, to nepotism, to paying off PAs.
The judge ruled that, while Graves and Hall could possibly argue that they had been libelled with the accusations, the University itself couldn't. And some of the extracts from the blog site read out by the judge to prove the point are hilarious…
"There follows the allegation" the judge stated "that…`under the leadership of Hall and Graves the University would seem to be adopting some of the more odious policies of the great Chinese bureaucratic dictatorship that dresses itself in the apparel of 'communism'…"
The judge added that "the criticism is directed towards the individuals" and concluded "that, in substance and reality, this is an action about allegations against individuals rather than against the University itself."
In a damning indictment of the University bosses he added: "I am not convinced 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)."
And in an even more damning indictment of the pair, stated that if the the libel action continued it would be "an abuse of the court's process"…
"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…"
Gary Duke, who spent three years defending himself in courts over the libel action has now, not only called for the resignation of Hall and Graves, but also wants a thorough investigation of how University of Salford money was spent on the libel action, which he reckons was `in excess of £100,000'.
"I'd like to know who gave the University the green light to pay these sums when they are laying off hundreds of members of staff to save money and students are having to pay increased tuition fees" he says "The authorisation was never on any publicly available minutes, nor was it openly discussed at the University Council.
"I'm calling for the resignation of Adrian Graves and Martin Hall over the use of public money to, as the judge said, `stifle criticism' of themselves" he adds "I am also going to write to the Higher Education Funding Council to ask for an immediate inquiry."
The Salford Star asked the University of Salford for a response to the High Court ruling and also asked how much the failed libel action had cost. The University has not commented.
WHAT THE JUDGE SAID ON EXTRACTS FROM THE RAT CATCHERS OF THE SEWERS BLOG…
On the Freedom of Information Act…
"Sub-paragraph (c) refers to `these two implacable University bosses' who regard themselves as immune to the whims of mere legislature in the shape of Parliament, and feel that they can readily cock their metaphorical hind legs at the trifle of English Law whilst offering the universal one-finger salute against the Freedom of Information Act (2000)'…
"The subject of the attack is plainly, yet again, the `University bosses'", the judge stated.
Another example from the blog, which the University complained about, was also read out by the judge…
"With more than a hint of irony, this week, Vice Chancellor Hall has been appointed to the Knowledge Sharing Board … Can Hall successfully square his wish to be open about other people's research when he is so secretive about information that he ultimately controls, and which should equally be open to those who request it?"
"The accusation complained of is that there have been `acts of nepotism' and appointments made, not on individual merit, but on the basis of personal relationships" stated the judge "It makes no sense to accuse a corporation of `nepotism'. The allegations can only relate to individual human beings. From the context it is clear to whom that criticism is directed."
On Pay-offs to a Personal Assistant…
The judge states: "Sub-paragraph (d) identifies a blog referring to the departure of a personal assistant called Susan Burgess. The suggestion seems to be that the `Graves/Hall Continuum' was wishing to conceal the circumstances of her rather hurried departure and that they authorised `a significant payment … in order to cover a heinous impropriety'.
"This is raised by way of a question, but the implication is clear." The judge adds "At all events, any `heinous impropriety' can only have been brought about by one or more human beings. Again, it makes no sense to suggest that the University was paying money to cover a heinous impropriety. The behaviour described is such as to be ascribable only to human beings.
On Biased Staff Hearings…
"Sub-paragraph (j) complains of an allegation that `senior members of staff' ensure that the findings of the staff mediation service are biased and that members of staff will not be given a fair or impartial hearing. That is plainly an allegation which is defamatory of those who administer the mediation service. Lack of impartiality, or `bias', must refer to human failings."
See the full judgement - click here
See Dr Gary Duke's latest blog - click here
See previous Salford Star article on University of Salford Freedom of Information Responses…click here