Star date: 22nd November 2010


"This is legal bullying" Gary Duke

The University of Salford is today going to a Manchester Court to get permission to hit the Superior Court of California to force WordPress to reveal the identities of both the authors of a blog it claims has libelled it, plus the identities of everyone who has posted on the site.

It's a part of the University's ongoing libel claims against former lecturer Gary Duke, who opposed the job cuts at the University last year. The court bid to force WordPress to reveal identities has major implications for freedom of speech in Salford, and it's ironic that the University's Chancellor is a former General Secretary of Amnesty International…

Full gross story here… Update: November 29th WordPress Caves in...

Today the University of Salford is going to Manchester County Court for a second hearing to get a `Letter of Request' in order to go to the Superior Court of California to force WordPress, and its parent company Automatic Inc, to reveal personal details of everyone attached to a blog called The Rat Catchers Of The Sewers.

The blog site lampooned the University's senior management and represents part of a libel case that the University has against former lecturer and PhD student, Gary Duke.

The University is, we understand, trying to prove that Duke is connected with the blog but it is asking an American court to force WordPress to reveal the identity, address, phone number, e-mail and IP address not only of the authors of the blog but also everybody who has contributed to it or posted comments on it.

This has major implications for any critical new media sites, not only in Salford but anywhere else. And it's doubly ironic that the Chancellor of the University of Salford, Irene Zubaida, is the former General Secretary of Amnesty International, while the Vice Chancellor, Martin Hall, is known for his commitment to human rights while working as an academic in South Africa.

Gary Duke was sacked from his job as a part time lecturer last year after being linked to a spoof newsletter which criticised the University of Salford's management as it implemented major cuts at the University, including over 100 job losses (see here). The University claims Duke has libelled senior management, including Martin Hall, Adrian Graves and Michael Harloe, and the court case to force WordPress to reveal identities comes as part of that libel proceeding.

Gary Duke, in turn, is taking the University of Salford to an employment tribunal next March connected with his dismissal.

"The University has commenced proceedings against me for libel" says Gary Duke "They have accused me of being linked with a website called The Rat Catchers of the Sewer.

"My position is that I will vigorously defend any allegations against me made by the University" he adds "I believe that this is legal bullying in the run up to my employment tribunal next March."

While the University of Salford is pushing legal matters to a head over criticism it has received, the University itself is currently being investigated by the Information Commissioner over complaints about its handling of Freedom of Information requests.

Salford Star has also made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner about a Freedom of Information request made to the University of Salford, which is awaiting an outcome.

The result of the University's Court case today will be announced on the Salford Star website later…

See previous Salford Star features here
 and here and Salford University Fat Cats here

Update 29th November 2010:

We understand that WordPress completely caved in and handed over the IP address of the author of the site, without the University having to go to the Californian Court.

The University is now finding the name of the holder of the IP virgin.net address and it will go back to court in December.

Update: 9th December 2010

Dr Gary Duke has sent us this statement:

"For the sake of clarity and without wishing to bore Salford Star readers with tedious legal arguments, below is part of the the request made to the Court by the University lawyers. I believe it exposes the far-reaching nature of the University's request. It is clear what information the University wished to secure through the Courts contained in the "List of Information and Documents to be Produced by Witness" (Automattic Inc) at the court last week, point 8 states clearly "User access log records and writings (or a copy of the information contained therein) which evidence and identify each IP address (including date and time of use of said IP address) associated with and/or used at any time by any person in relation to creating or modifying or posting to the Theratcactchersofthesewers.wordpress.com Account"

"The request is clear and unambiguous. The request as worded does not discriminate between IP addresses of one type of 'postee' or a 'postee' of comments. At no point does the request seek to definitively exclude the IP addresses of those who have posted comments on the blog site. What is a fact and a matter of record is that the University's legal team now have in their hands a comprehensive list of IP addresses. Make of this what you will.

"There is a fundamental question that needs addressing. What is the role of a university? It should be to encourage debate, dissent and difference, to encourage freedom of expression and freedom of speech. This should be an automatic right to every student, worker, every citizen. Clearly the UK libel laws are abused by those with the deepest pockets who can instruct lawyers when they feel wronged. It's a law for the rich. That's why I believe this case is important and is about human rights. Why do I believe this? If any evidence of the "chilling effect" of libel laws is necessary, I direct your readers to one of the contributors to your comments section on your story, who suggests another contributor "consider toning down his/her language"."




Salford Star wrote
at 15:28:41 on 09 December 2010
For the benefit of everyone below, Gary Duke's latest statement had now been added to the story
Roger Rabbit wrote
at 15:21:46 on 30 November 2010
I can assure you I have no interest in defending anybody's reputation, merely one in clarifying facts. Reporting on court proceedings does meet with qualified priviledge but what is reported must be a fair and accurate reflection of the facts, and some of those cited in this article are at the very least misleading, at worst false. I am sure Dr Duke would be happy to provide you with a copy of the Draft Order submitted to the Court but never used. Addresses and phone numbers of those who have 'posted' are not sought within that order and thus your statement is not correct. The Draft Order makes no explicit reference to those who have posted 'comments' either. Either way, what Automatic Inc. have provided the University with is a list of IP addresses and one email address. It is perfectly possible that some of those IP addresses supplied lead back to University computers and accounts, in which case it would be exceptionally easy for the University to deduce who among their staff has been issuing commentary. Whether or not they choose to instigate disciplinary proceedings as a result of this would presumably depend upon the contents of such commentary. I would strongly advise S Barratt - whoever that might be - to consider toning down his/her language, as if anything this case exemplifies that Salford will go to considerable expense in order to ascertain the authors of false (or unproveable) statements about its management. I would also strongly advise Salford Star to afford the University the chance to respond to the contents of this article (were they approached for a comment?). This might have avoided some of its inaccuracies. As to the righteousness of Dr Duke's plight, that is surely a matter for the Court to decide. Some extremely serious allegations have been made and innuendo generated by the Rat Catchers blog, and one would presume that a High Court Judge is capable of exercising considerable powers when it comes to ascertaining any corroborating or contradicting evidence. I do not agree with the author of this article that this is an issue of Human Rights - since when has it been a Human Right to defame a man in his Profession? Some of the statements of the Rat Catchers blog are statements of fact which, perhaps, should not have been published without their author ascertaining tangible and reliable evidence of their truth prior to publication. The interest of the High Court and (presumably) of the Jury will be to ascertain the truth. Whoever is proven to have authored this blog will hope, once the trial is over, that more substantial evidence than gossip emerged to prove or disprove the original allegations.
Salford Star wrote
at 12:17:23 on 30 November 2010
See Roger Rabbit's comments below... You seem to be a bit close to all this - are you sure you don't work for Salford University. Or maybe Roger Rabbit is your real name. We do hope that the University isn't using bunnies to deliver threats.Those in glass houses, and all that. Surely everyone who `posted to the blog' includes those who post comments? They are posting aren't they. Or is it called some'at else in blog land? Perhaps Postman Pat can give us the answer...
S Barratt wrote
at 12:17:13 on 30 November 2010
I think Burke makes a few interesting points. However, the sums that he speaks of are far from 'inconsequential'. The current VC stated last year that well over £20 million is spent annually on 'expenses'. Whether these expenses are necessary is another question. We'll never know as they refuse to publish the precise details. His idealistic view of Salford is out of touch with reality. Speak to the students who are crammed into lecture theatres, some which are falling to pieces. I know of staff who lecture to over 400 students at a time! This is a result of staff cuts. What's more, students are going to be asked to pay increased fees for an increasingly worsening service. Media City is the 'flag ship' but flag ships don't represent the rest of the fleet which is at sea and full of holes. For most students, they'll only ever view it from a tram window if they can still afford the fare. I'm not sure what beef Mr Burke has with Mr Duke (or his wife for that matter)as some of his earlier comments seem very nasty. As for him having a 'grand vision', I don't know. He was as far as I know a good lecturer, popular with his students and a union rep who became involved in a campaign to save around 150 teaching jobs. This was popular with students and staff but not with upper management. I never went on the protests but now I wish I had. Working at Salford is terrible and staff morale is at an all time low. The spoof newsletters were popular because they made fun of managers who were/are bullying staff. Media City may prove the straw that breaks the camel's back. When you add in the vast sums being spent on luxuries for senior managers - the imported carpets and furniture in what's laughingly called the 'Old' Fire Station, chauffeur driven cars few of us who remain hold out much hope for the future. The question that Burke fails to ask is how does spending these vast sums benefit students? From what I've heard, many more academic jobs (around 40) are going in the very near future as government funding is cut to Salford University. Our redundancy scheme has been torn up with no opposition from the union as it's no longer said to be 'affordable'. It's ironic that costly libel case are!. The powers that be at Salford should be publicly accountable for every single penny instead of running a publicly funded university like a little fiefdom. At the end of the day it's our money they're spending. I wish Mr Duke well with his case. we should give him our support as we need more people like him who are prepared to stand up to the real bullies. Oh and by the way, I haven't used my real name as I'd be sacked if the managers at Salford Uni knew my real identity.
Roger Rabbit wrote
at 12:07:02 on 30 November 2010
I shall clarify my previous comment. The story (above) states: "The University is, we understand, trying to prove that Duke is connected with the blog but it is asking an American court to force WordPress to reveal the identity, address, phone number, e-mail and IP address not only of the authors of the blog but also everybody who has contributed to it or posted comments on it." That is not true. What was requested was IP data for those who have posted to the blog. At no point was the identity, address, phone number etc of those who had posted comments sought. It may be sought at some further date but at the moment this statement is simply untrue. Not that I am in the business of defending the University's reputation, but we would not want them to be bringing another libel suit against the Salford Star, would we now?
george irwell wrote
at 04:33:19 on 30 November 2010
I have spoken to a spokesperson who is involved with this case and I can confirm that Automattic Inc (Wordpress)provided the solicitors acting for the University in the US with a list of IP Addresses. As you correctly say Wordpress 'caved in' without the need for an order from the UK court or for that matter, a hearing in the US. This has serious implications for anyone who has a 'blog'hosted with Wordpress or any other subsidiary of Automattic Inc. Mr Rabbit is slightly off the mark in his (I presume Roger as a he) first posting. As a matter of clarification, the University of Salford legal team (including a barrister) were asking the UK court to issue an order to Automattic Inc that asked for site originators, authors, and IP addresses. It was worded so generally that it would have required Automattic to hand over all IP addresses of any person who had posted to the 'blog' which has serious ramifications for a variety of reasons that I shall not go into here but will be obvious. The extensive list provided to the UoS by Automattic reflects this. If I were an employee of the UoS and had posted to this 'blog' I would be very concerned and expect a knock at the door metaphorically speaking. The next hearing is scheduled for the 21st Dec where the legal team for the UoS will be asking for a court order that will require Virgin to provide details of the IP address of the site originator. The University will again be represented by a comprehensive legal team more than likely funded out of the public purse. As far as I'm aware, Dr Duke will be defending himself. I was told that Legal Aid is not available in libel cases. As for posting anonymously, given all this, one might say that it's entirely understandable.
Salford Star wrote
at 15:23:14 on 29 November 2010
Sorry Ann - just updated the story - click for details...
Ann wrote
at 15:15:52 on 29 November 2010
What happened at the hearing? Did the court make a ruling? Did it give Salford University leave to apply to courts in California?
Roger Rabbit wrote
at 14:17:08 on 29 November 2010
Without presuming to speak for Dr Duke, and in answer to Peter Burke's question, since all Universities are public Charities and in receipt of public funds, then the obvious answer to your question is that there is a public interest in seeing them well managed, rather than according to any particular ideology. Is Salford well managed? Arguably, yes. Is money well spent by management on behalf of the public and students? That is hard to answer. Answering it would require openness about the finer details of their accounts. The University have a statutory duty to provide this under the Freedom of Information Act - a duty they are in my opinion deliberately trying to avoid. Is this because there is impropriety hidden within the broad headings of the Annual Accounts? Frankly we have no idea. But ask yourself this - is it a sensible use of student and tax payer money to pursue a hugely expensive libel case, when the prospect of being able to get your costs paid by the other side in the event of your success is so slim? Is that reflective of sound management? Or is it a hubristic act driven by wounded pride? Yet again some of Dr Duke's claims - whilst not proven - may yet be vindicated by events.
Peter Burke wrote
at 12:43:32 on 29 November 2010
I would like Gary Duke to post on your website exactly how he thinks that Salford University should be managed. Because it seems he wants to atack the university and the way it is currently managed and who it is managed by. So what I am asking is what would Gary Duke do if he was in the top job manging Salford University, I guess it all comes down to where he thinks the money should be spent, how much, and most importantly where the money will come from to pay for his grand vision. Because looking more holisticly the amounts of money that Gary Duke is pointing his finger at are actually quite inconsequential in terms of the university's profit and loss. instead of atacking Salford University, can i suggest that Gary Duke go and set up a 'free' charitable university and he will teach for 'free' and students go there for free in the front room house 'rent free' with 'free' paper and 'free' pens, and free 'beer' ! ! ! I heard thats what they want to set up something like that in The Working Class Movement Library, is it that the only problem is, well there is no money to pay the wages yet? I can see that Salford university has made many improvements in facilities and a much more user friendly environment environment for students greatly over the past decade.
David Henry wrote
at 07:20:59 on 25 November 2010
As a former "customer" of Salford University I am appalled my hard earned investment in the establishment is being used for such despicable purposes. At a time when the establishment itself feels the need to increase tuition fees and is making huge cutbacks (however much they deny it) to what were once excellent facilities and course this could not happen at a worse time. Regardless of the pilfering of public resources on this never-ending personal witch-hunt against Mr Duke - he has every right to blow the whistle and expose corruption and malpractice in the public interest. Keep your head-up Gary, don't let the bastards win. You and I know you're on the right side of what is right and wrong here and that's what matters in the end.
Nachtschlepper wrote
at 15:41:47 on 24 November 2010
Yep Burke sounds about right.
Roger Rabbit wrote
at 06:36:41 on 24 November 2010
I'm afraid this article is already out of date. On a point of order, you may want to remove the statement from the article which infers that the University were pursuing the personal data of everybody who has commented. That is not quite correct, and they have so far only sought the personal data of the creator and principal contributor. Unfortunately Automatic Inc. voluntarily supplied the IP data even though UK libel judgements cannot be enforced there and even though both UK and EU law would have provided them with legal protection from prosecution or costs. There will be a further hearing on 21st December to determine whether or not to force Virgin Media to disclose the user account associated with the IP address which created the blog. As to the substance of the allegations, this will also be addressed at the hearing of 21st December. It is my opinion that a trial is highly likely, so presumably Salford must be pretty confident that no evidence exists to corroborate the allegations made against their members of staff.
Peter Burke wrote
at 06:34:06 on 24 November 2010
He really ought to get his wife [cruela De Vil] to help him stitch the hem on his pant's properly instead of her job snatching peoples children. I'm convinced he his a Rat catcher, and thats because he looks like a rat-catcher. And Hey I am 'Lampooning'him which he does to others, however with my real name not an asumed name.
jim devine wrote
at 19:16:00 on 23 November 2010
ORWELL:;::"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."
Fairminded wrote
at 16:17:13 on 23 November 2010
Thanks for the tip, I might have a look at the blog now. This is a fight for freedom of speach and it makes me question how the leaders of Salford Uni got their previous positions in Amnesty International or a human rights activist. It shows just how false and twofaced they are. If Salford Uni read this post these are my words and not those of the Salford Star. Sue me if you want, I couldn't give a flying fuck. You can't have what I ain't got.
Nachtschlepper wrote
at 11:14:54 on 23 November 2010
It's great to live in a free country where one can criticise those in power with out fear of retribution. No cars pulling up outside & the sound of footsteps & the hammering on a door. People don't disappear without explanation. Yes a marvelous country to live in. I do hope those nice people at Salford University are reading this I dont want to be taken to court & forced to give them everything I have.
Em3 wrote
at 08:35:25 on 23 November 2010
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