It's a long story that began almost a year ago when students and lecturers fought against 150 job losses and course closures at the University of Salford (see here). The University cuts were brought in to save £13.5million over the next three years – while, of course, spending over £30million in fit out costs on its new MediaCityUK base, and paying a huge rent to Peel Media.
In the midst of the battle, a spoof news letter appeared from the `Vice Consul', basically taking the mick out of the University's bosses. Dr Gary Duke, a lecturer and PhD student who had been at the forefront of the fight against the cuts, was linked to the `news letter' and sacked for bringing the University of Salford into `disrepute'. Dr Duke's Employment Tribunal against his sacking is scheduled for early next year.
Meanwhile, a blog site sprung up on the net called The Rat Catchers Of The Sewers which continued taking the mick out of the University's establishment. Unfortunately Salford University's bosses didn't get the joke. They claim that Dr Duke has libelled senior management, including Martin Hall, Adrian Graves and Michael Harloe – and have gone to extraordinary lengths, using public money, to prove their point.
Last month saw a court case in Manchester where a judge ordered blog site Wordpress to hand over IP addresses of those connected to the `Sewers' blog. Even though, we believe, the judge's jurisdiction didn't carry to the United States, Wordpress caved in and handed over the info.
Now the University is going back to court to get the personal details behind the IP addresses from Virgin Media Ltd. And, as part of this case Dr Adrian Graves, Salford University's registrar, has submitted a witness statement which lays out the basis of the University's allegations. Dr Duke states the claims are "interesting" and "forthright" and, inviting everyone to go to court today, adds that the hearing may prove "enlightening and contentious". Plus "You'll also get to see what your taxes buy in the shape of an expensive University barrister!"
But behind the banter the case has very serious implications about human rights and about the way that the University of Salford conducts its business in a less than transparent way.
As stated previously, the Salford Star has an official complaint lodged with the Information Commissioner about non-compliance under the Freedom of Information Act regarding the use of public money. Many others also have complaints lodged with the Information Commissioner, in what appears to be a systematic abuse of the Act. Unfortunately the community cannot afford lawyers to force the University to reveal information.
"There is a fundamental question that needs addressing" says Dr Duke "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" he adds "It's a law for the rich. That's why I believe this case is important and is about human rights."
Gary Duke refuses to give in to the University of Salford and is fighting the cabal of Vice Chancellors and bosses every inch of the way. He believes that this libel case is merely "legal bullying" in the run up to his Employment Tribunal in March next year.
Incredibly, 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.
For further details please see previous Salford Star feature (with links to back articles) and Dr Duke's new blog site Vagrant In The Casual Ward of a Workhouse (click here).
University of Salford v Dr Gary Duke
Manchester Civil Justice Centre
Old Bridge Street West
21st December 2010 2pm free
Update: 22nd December 2010
The judge gave the University of Salford the Order for Virgin to divulge the account of the IP address as expected.
Full juicy details of the case to follow