Salvatore Fiore’s witness statement of what he had to undergo whilst employed at the University of Wolverhampton.
The following document was written on 23/11/2007
I am currently studying for an MBA in Education at Keele University. I have a MPhil Computation Human-Computer Interaction, UMIST (University of Manchester), a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching in HE, University of Wolverhampton, a BSc (Hons) Business Information Technology, Open University and an HND Business Information Technology, Brunel University. I also have Professional qualifications as a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Chartered Scientist of the British Computer Society / The Science Council, Chartered Member of the British Computer Society and a Chartered IT professional of the British Computer Society. I have worked hard to achieve my qualifications and was keen to get the position as a senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton.
I started working as a Senior Lecturer in Computing at the School of Computing and IT on 1 September 2004. My terms of employment were set out in a letter of offer of employment dated 21 July 2004. At the section headed Duties and Hours of Work it specifically stated that my duties included “teaching and tutorial guidance, research and other forms of scholarly activity, examining, curriculum development, administration and related activities”. I was keen to be given the opportunity to carry out the full range of these duties.
My optimism about my new role was fairly short-lived, as within about one month of starting the job there was news of redundancies at the University. I knew from an early stage that I did not like the management style of Robert Moreton, the Dean of the school. I recall a meeting with him when I first started working at the University whereby he told me that he was proud at how well he looked on a photograph on his wall when other members of staff looked old and worn out. As he was my manager I was not impressed by this attitude.
On 20 September 2004, I attended a ‘Dean’s Address’. Nearly all members of staff of the School of Computing and IT (“SCIT”) as well as some external members including members of the Executive Board were in attendance. I and other new members of staff were asked to stand and present ourselves. I felt uncomfortable about being told to stand up. At my turn, Robert Moreton asked me to stand with a gesture, which I did. Robert Moreton then continued presenting and in a rapid succession of words, said the phrase "bloody Italians". Nobody in the room offered even a glance of disapproval for this remark and whilst leaving the room afterwards, I said to a colleague how shocked I was after this remark, but he didn't respond.
I deny that I exhibited relationship difficulties with my colleagues. This suggests that I was the sole cause of these problems. I in fact felt that I experienced some bullying during the first few months of my employment, firstly involving colleagues Alison Bunce and Tony Mansfield and reported this first to my line manager Peter Musgrove at two meetings in October or November 2004. Peter Musgrove told me he would investigate but came back at the second meeting dismissing my complaint by saying that Alison Bunce had problems, in a way that made me understand she had some sort of mental problems or similar, and I should just forget about the incident.
During these meetings, we also discussed some conferences I wished to attend as part of my research activity and staff development. Peter Musgrove told me that there would be only £2000 available each year for staff development. I told him that I was paying my own PhD fees.
In December 2004, I was approached by Helen Ashdown to tell me that I needed to participate in probation meetings. She had been assigned to supervise my 12 month standard probation period. When I received the forms then for the first time, I saw that these meetings should have taken place from September 2004. We had various probation meetings between December 2004 and July 2005, during which I raised various complaints about the bullying and unprofessional conduct by some colleagues. Helen Ashdown told me that she hated filling out the forms and was very reluctant to do so. The meetings were very unpleasant as Helen Ashdown would always refuse to address my complaints, instead dismissing them by telling me I should adapt to the culture of the School and commenting that nobody liked to work with me.
We discussed many of my ideas for curriculum development but Helen Ashdown repeatedly told me I could not participate in curriculum development at that time, though I could not understand why as it was part of my contract and job description. She suggested that there would not be enough hours to give me a full timetable. This made me fearful of redundancy. During this time, none of my grievances were addressed and Helen Ashdown twisted the facts and blamed me for the majority of the complaints that I raised.
As part of the requirement for my job I had to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. I was given a mentor, Ruth Fairclough and had a nice stable relationship with her. Unfortunately the University changed my mentor without giving me any explanation or reason. This change of mentor was unprecedented and I felt a level of mistrust as a result of this unexplained change. Whilst the University allege that I had instances of relationship problems in the first months of working at the University, I do not agree with this. I had some disputes, which I tried to resolve. One issue was that the other staff failed to provide me with the slides and teaching materials that I needed to do my job properly. When I told Robert Moreton he agreed with me that it was unprofessional conduct by the other members of staff.
Only one grievance was investigated at this time despite the fact that I, accompanied by my partner, Melody Boyce, also met with Neil Gordon, Personnel Services Manager for the University about them. At the meeting on or around 20th April 2005, I told him of my grievance against Jenny Davies, as well as the irregularities in the conduct of my probation and problems with health and safety. I also complained to him about Peter Musgrove because he had refused to replace the broken and unusable chair I had been assigned in my office since my first day of employment and had said it was ‘good enough’ for me. Neil Gordon did not take note of these grievances and told me he could not advise me, except to tell me which procedure to follow.
In April 2005, I met with Robert Moreton to enter the grievance against Jenny Davies formally. During the meeting we discussed the other outstanding grievances and the misconduct of the probation process by Helen Ashdown. Because Robert Moreton promised a full investigation into my complaints, I agreed to document them on the ‘mid-term’ probation forms, despite the fact that the procedures for completing these had been breached by Helen Ashdown. Robert Moreton was clear that he regarded the conduct of the colleagues I was complaining about to be “unprofessional” and he later confirmed this by email attachment to me.
A few days later I had an informal conversation with John Roche, a colleague and NATFHE Union Representative in SCIT. He tried to persuade me to withdraw my grievance against Jenny Davies, because I was still a probationer and suggested it could cause me to fail my probation. I felt intimidated by this and made him aware that such comments were unwelcome. At some time after September 2005, during another conversation with John Roche, he confessed to me that Robert Moreton had sent him to persuade me to withdraw the grievance against Jenny Davies.
The grievance was investigated by Alison Halstead and appeared to be conducted fairly. She took my statements but the statements of Jenny Davies were more of her interpretation of events rather than factual. After I received her report, Robert Moreton interpreted it as though there was no fault with the School whatsoever, although the report clearly indicated serious problems of communication towards me and that he had taken an unprecedented step to remove my mentor without consulting me or my mentor. As a result of the grievance, a new mentor was promised to me in order for me to continue my studies towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, without further disruption, although this was never done.
On 15th July 2005 I met Robert Moreton in his office. During the meeting we had a general discussion about management and the unprofessional conduct of some colleagues I had already raised, such as Alison Bunce and Tony Mansfield. I told him that there was a cultural problem in SCIT and raised again my serious concerns, as a verbal grievance against Tony Mansfield. I made him aware that Tony Mansfield did not give to me materials necessary for me to teach students during a workshop and that I had heard Tony Mansfield telling a student to ignore me. He told me he would investigate and asked me to provide the email exchanges between myself and Tony Mansfield (which I promptly forwarded to him after the meeting). He adjourned the meeting, promising to resume when he had investigated this complaint. This never happened and the grievance was never resolved. I was never offered any report or feedback of meetings about this or other grievances, despite repeated promises to do so from the University.
On 12th September 2005, I went, accompanied by my partner, Melody Boyce, to see the Head of Personnel, Roger Williams to complain about the mismanagement of my probation due to the fact that I was not presented with relevant information and forms by management of SCIT and the personnel department in time. Moreover, I complained that due to the fact that the probation meetings and paperwork relating to its procedure had been mismanaged by Helen Ashdown, my probation supervisor. As such I claimed the breach of contract. Subsequently, a meeting was held with Robert Moreton and Neil Gordon, at which my partner was also present, at which it was confirmed that the probation had been passed successfully.
In September 2005, I met Peter Musgrove in the ‘common area’ of the office neighbouring mine. We were speaking about the relocation to the new offices and he made me aware that there was an agenda already established with regard to research and careers in the department. He told me that a new member of staff, Rupert Simpson would be located in my office and that he would ‘go higher’, making me understand that he would make a very rapid career progression. I was puzzled about how he could be so certain about this. He continued telling me that there were arrangements with regard to research in the department and that some would do research like Quasim Mehdi and his research group and that these individuals too would go higher up. He then said that I ‘would be involved in research too’, but as he said so, he made a gesture downwards with his hand and a disparaging expression with his face, that made me feel he was certain that I would not do well in the department. I was further perplexed as I understood that career progression in the university was regulated by appraisal, by contract and not by sponsorship.
On 11th October 2005 or thereabouts, I met Peter Musgrove in the annexe of the Costa Coffee bar on the University main campus for an informal chat without a fixed agenda. The chat was mostly referring to some of the suggestions he had to give me with regard to how to approach members of staff. He made me some propositions that I should ignore mismanagement of procedures by others in the department, without looking at the root cause of them. I also told him that I was attending a Masters in education at the University of Wolverhampton and talked about my doctoral studies at the University of York. We discussed the procedure on how to deal with student complaints. We did not converse at all about issues arising with regard to staff relations, students or performance. We did not fix any performance targets in what was a very informal meeting. Since this meeting, I never again met Peter Musgrove to discuss issues of performance or set targets for the purpose of appraisal.
In November 2005 I raised a formal grievance about my line manager, Peter Musgrove, which was not investigated. I raised the grievance because I felt bullied and harassed by him. This failure to deal with what I viewed as important employment difficulties was not taken seriously by the University and I became ill. This, compounded by the previous events and unresolved grievances, resulted in extended leave for work-related stress in November-December 2005.
In November 2005, I sent an email to Peter Musgrove requesting an appraisal. I did not know about the procedures for appraisal but was aware that it should be done every year. I was concerned that I did not have any targets or recognition of my progress set at the conclusion of my probation. He said appraisal had not been started for the year, which I could not understand as it was already November 2005 and the year had begun in September 2005. I was denied opportunity to participate in appraisal throughout the 2005/6 academic year, despite my repeated requests to Personnel and my line manager Peter Musgrove.
Sometime around November 2005 or thereabouts, I went, accompanied by my partner, Melody Boyce, to the Personnel department to let them know that I was concerned about the lack of appraisals in the department. I spoke to a slim, young, black woman, I believe to be named Sam Patterson. After briefly explaining to her the information I had gathered, she said that appraisal should be done at all levels in all Schools, but that she could not do much about it. I was handed information relating to the appraisal process but she did not take note of the event although I was explicit that this was, albeit verbal, a grievance towards the management of SCIT. I was never invited to discuss this with Personnel or others.
As a module leader on teaching module CP1045 I issued assignments to students. One particular assignment had to be handed in on 10 November 2005. The day before the hand in date for this assignment I held an additional tutorial to make sure that the students were okay with the assignment. No problems were raised and only one student asked for an extension. As she would not give me a reason for requesting an extension I refused and told her that there were proper procedures to be followed to obtain an extension. On the 10 November 2005 the day that the assignments were to be submitted I was off work due to sickness. In my absence Peter Musgrove gave a mass extension to the students without even attempting to consult me about this. I felt that this was in breach of University policy and undermined my authority and credibility.
On about 11 November 2005, I met with Peter Musgrove in his office, in order to ask him about the mass extension he had given on 10th November 2005 to students of the module CP1045. I went to see him in order to find out his motivation and ask for evidence of the need to do so. I began the meeting by telling him that I was off sick for just one day on 10th November and that on the 9th November I had been with the students, giving them extra timetabled tutorials to address last minute questions. At that time, nobody had presented their tutor with an extension request and I did not receive any extension requests from any tutor. I told him that I had reminded the students, as I normally would, that extensions would be allowed only for the circumstances contemplated in the module guide as determined by university procedure. They had to inform their tutor first, who, in turn, in agreement with myself, would have allowed an extension if a reason was valid. I also said that students who need an extension should approach their tutor at least a week before the deadline.
Peter Musgrove told me that on the day he had been approached by Jas Singh and Stuart Slater and that by “error of judgment”, he allowed an extension to the students. On this basis, I asked him to withdraw the extension because it unfairly discriminated against some students who had already submitted their work on time. He told me that he did not want to do so because the extension was already issued, so I told him that I would be willing for the students to present their assignments as a resubmission at a later date. He refused this offer from me. I told him that with his extension he was implying that there was fault with my teaching and that he was breaching university procedure. I said that he was bullying me with his behaviour. He was very quick to dismiss me, saying that he didn’t care about staff but was interested in making the students happy. I was dismayed and asked him again if he really was not interested in the wellbeing of his staff, which he confirmed. I then said “I’m sorry, but you are forcing me to put a grievance” and he responded confidently, “yes, put it”. That same day I gave him a written grievance. I also lodged a grievance with Kamal Bechkoum, Anne Latham and Robert Moreton for this matter. I felt that I had to do this to protect my dignity.
On 14 November 2005, I met with Kamal Bechkoum in his office to discuss the grievance I had put against Peter Musgrove after he allowed the extension. The conversation began with Kamal Bechkoum illustrating to me some documents for internal moderation in which Jas Singh highlighted some areas for improvement. I pointed out that the assignment was issued after making the suggested adjustments and that no other suggestions had been made by the internal moderator or the teaching team for the module CP1045 (Myself as Module Leader, John Roche and Stuart Slater as Lecturers). Kamal Bechkoum continued telling me about the motivation behind Peter Musgrove granting the extension and admitted that this was due to an “error of judgment” by Peter Musgrove. In a previous meeting with Peter Musgrove, he had also admitted to me that his actions were the result of an “error of judgment”.
There was, from Kamal Bechkoum, an admission of this mismanagement and I asked for there to be a clarification between Peter Musgrove and me regarding how to take the module forward, considering my insistence that Peter Musgrove should acknowledge his error to the students. The meeting terminated with an agreement between Kamal Bechkoum and me that these things would be discussed further in the presence of Peter Musgrove and we fixed a meeting for the following day.
Due to ill health, I could not attend this meeting. However, after my return to work, I mentioned on various occasions to Vicky Ubhi, Martin-Hedley Smith, Kamal Bechkoum, Robert Moreton and Maggie Burton that the grievance was still unresolved and an investigation was needed. Even Peter Musgrove referred to the fact that this grievance was unresolved in an email.
No concerns at all were raised subsequently by the external examiner or any others, regarding the module or its assessment and neither were there any criticisms directed towards my teaching or module leadership. If there were concerns with the assessment regime for CP1045, these would have been highlighted at the exam board and reported to me as module leader as a breach of the quality assurance process.
It was in late 2005 after all these events that I started to feel depressed. I would wake up in the morning and feel unable to concentrate or find motivation to do the most elementary things. I would get confused and suffered headaches and other symptoms. I am a very proactive and pragmatic person by nature but I started to feel that all I wanted to do was to sleep all day and I was not up to doing anything. I went off sick after these events due to stress and went back to work on 12 December 2005.
On about 12 December 2005 on my return to work, I went to see Steve Garner, a lecturer in SCIT, to discuss the delivery of classes and if there were any issues with the module ‘System development and HCI’ of which I was part of the teaching team. He was aware that I had been off sick for some time due to ill health and so we had a brief chat about the latest developments on the module. He made me aware that there were no major issues and that during my absence other lecturers had covered for me whilst he also prepared the exam paper to be issued to students for the end of semester examination. I was a bit irritated by this considering that I expected to be involved in the design of the exam questions, being part of the teaching team. I asked him why he decided not to involve me and he seemed uncomfortable to respond and avoided answering. He told me that the exam paper should be issued to the students and I made him aware that I was not prepared to do it considering that almost none of the exam questions were related to the part of the subject with which I was familiar and would have taught. I made him aware that I was not going to deliver a paper as the students would inevitably ask questions and they had the right to do so. I suggested it would be in all respects unprofessional for me to do so. He seemed to accept my decision.
I also asked him why, unlike previous years, there were hardly any questions in relation to the part I taught, and suggested to him that this was intentional by him because the paper should have been finalised for internal moderation some considerable time before I went on sick leave in November. When I reminded him about this and told him I felt isolated on the module and that what he had done was not a fair practice for the students and that he was breaching the external quality assurance processes of the quality assurance agency, he quickly dismissed me, saying that Peter Musgrove told him to ignore the HCI questions purposefully because I went off sick. At that point, I made him aware of the very low esteem I had for him and left his office.
Steve Garner subsequently sent me an email asking if I was able to deliver the exam paper, to which I responded again, that I was not.
On 13 December 2005 I sent an email to SCIT staff. I believe that I was making valid comment about the situation that I had been put in by the University. I did not trust peer observations after I had experienced first hand how the system could be abused, when my mentor Jenny Davies had previously compiled blatantly contradictory reports for quality assurance and staff development purposes.
In January 2006, I had initiated contact with Vicky Ubhi, the university Occupational Health Advisor and their Occupational Health Physician. The physician had reported that my grievances should be addressed and I was expecting a support for return to work in accordance with the university procedures. I was offered counselling but I asked for a couple of weeks to reflect on whether I wanted counselling. The offer of counselling suggested that I had a problem, which I had caused.
In January 2006 I returned to work but felt that I received no support and immediately upon my return to work I had an argument with my line manager, Peter Musgrove, against whom there was already an unresolved grievance. I was still very stressed at the time. He did not ask for my reasons why I did not want to deliver the exam paper. This was too much for me to take. I felt as if he had intended to make me break down. I did not make any physical threats and had no intention to offend Peter Musgrove.
Disciplinary action was taken against me as a result of this argument leading to a 12 month Level 2 warning on my file. In December 2006 I learned from my Occupational Health file that, following a meeting between the Dean, the Association Dean and Occupational Health Adviser in December 2005, it had been agreed that I should not have to have contact with Peter Musgrove whilst the grievance remained unresolved. This relevant fact was withheld from the disciplinary proceedings. If this decision had been implemented, the argument and subsequent disciplinary action would never have taken place, and if the information had been present at the proceedings, it may have altered the outcome. Not only did this affect this particular disciplinary sanction against me, as my dismissal was based on a breach of the warning arising out of this incident, the implications of this failure by the University to take into account the recommendation by the Occupational Health Adviser and what had been agreed at that meeting has had very serious consequences for me.
I was annoyed with Peter Musgrove and was showing my anger. I did not make any offensive comment to him, and I understand that the problem was the level of my voice. Despite this on 11th February 2006 I was disciplined by being given a Stage 2 written warning, which was to be kept on my file for a period of 12 months. I appealed but it was unsuccessful.
At the disciplinary hearing I presented my defence to the chair, Geoff Hurd. Robert Moreton had collected evidence in the form of statements from members of staff and Geoff Hurd accepted them as valid evidence for the hearing. I noted that an email sent by Robert Moreton to request evidence from members of staff, had precisely the same date and time as those of response containing witness statements. I felt that the evidence presented by Robert Moreton was flawed and that the Chair did not appropriately weight this. I asserted this at the appeal hearing on 3 April 2007. During the hearing, I discovered that nobody of the panel had made the Chair aware that I had immediately prior to the incident, been off sick with stress and that there was no record of my illness in my personnel file. The chair also failed to take the reason for my behaviour into account.
At the conclusion of the subsequent appeal, the chair for the University Gerald Bennett, stated that the outstanding grievances I had entered previously should all be progressed and a brokered attempt at resolution be made. This never occurred despite my persistent requests.
On 16 January 2006, I notified the Vice Chancellor, Caroline Gipps, in writing that I felt that I had been subjected to bullying and harassment and that the disciplinary action was not being conducted fairly by the Dean. She declined to investigate or meet with me.
On 13th February 2006 or thereabouts, Robert Moreton appeared unexpectedly in my office. He asked to meet with me, but I told him I was busy at the time. First he offered me a choice of when to meet but when I said I was in the middle of some work and would fix a time with his secretary, he changed his mind and said he wanted the meeting there and then. He closed the door and then behaved in a domineering way, forcibly and repeatedly (more than three times) asking me to send an email to all SCIT staff apologising to Peter Musgrove. I told him that considering the circumstances I didn’t feel an apology was needed and considering that I had already been given a penalty, such an apology would serve neither one of us. He eventually stopped his insistence and before leaving, told me that Kamal Bechkoum would be my line manager for a while. I felt uncomfortable with this as it meant reporting directly to an Associate Dean and higher level of authority than required by contract and this felt like yet another disciplinary sanction and breach of contract and effort to control from which I would not benefit in any way.
On 15th February 2006, I met with Kamal Bechkoum in order to agree a return to work plan and address the issues, which were causes of my stress illness to date. During the meeting, we spoke of some incidents of bullying which I had experienced and about the behaviour of some colleagues. Kamal Bechkoum tried to minimise things, always referring to me with paternalistic examples of conflict resolution drawn from literature, which were not at all related to the circumstances, I was describing to him. I felt that he was not taking the situation seriously. At this point I felt more and more isolated from the other staff. I started to feel that the University were ignoring me in the hope that I would resign.
During this meeting or soon afterwards I mentioned to him that I was carrying out some research work with a part-time student and that it was my intention to submit the research work to the EAERCD and IADIS conferences, with a further possibility to submit to a journal for publication. He told me that I could also focus more on the discipline in which I specialise, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and I made him notice that the work was indeed relevant to this field.
He also promised during the meeting that I would take a very important role for curriculum development during the revalidation process. In particular, he said that I would take a lead role in HCI. He said this after I told him that I had requested to Helen Ashdown during my probation, for opportunities to develop new modules. I also made him aware that Peter Musgrove had promised me active involvement in curriculum development meetings.
He asked me about the tasks which I had fallen behind on due to my absence and was keen to discuss this to some extent. The day afterwards, we met again and discussed in detail the backlog and the tasks I had to carry out soon. I also explained that this was my return to work after long term stress‑related absence and prompted him to seek a resolution of the events and the causes of my stress with the intention to solve them. I wanted, as also requested by Robert Moreton, to follow the procedure for return to work in accordance with the stress policy, but this was disregarded, ignoring the University’s stress policy. The only record Kamal Bechkoum provided to me was a list of tasks I was required to complete to rid my backlog. There was no mention at all, even subsequently, of how my stress would be addressed and no plan was proposed to address such issues for the future, although I requested it as this was an ongoing situation, raised also previously with Peter Musgrove.
On 8 May 2006 I was bullied on two separate occasions by John Roche. First, he had, without any provocation, slammed the door of the office we shared whilst I was standing in front of it, talking to Ros Hampton. Later the same day he had constantly interfered with and overruled me whilst I was speaking with the students and examining student presentations, causing the session to be aborted.
A few days after this event, I was stopped in the corridor by Kamal Bechkoum. He told me he had spoken to Robert Moreton about my previous request to remove John Roche from the reiteration of the presentations he had disrupted on 8 May 2007 and that Robert Moreton had said they could not do so because he was a union representative. He was not concerned at all about the stress this was causing me.
Following a further absence for stress in May 2006, I was concerned that neither SCIT, Personnel nor the Department of Risk, Safety and Health, were encouraging the application of the University’s stress policy. In particular, I was not given opportunity to discuss my illness and the causes of my stress beyond confidential sessions with the Occupational Health Adviser. No action was undertaken by the University to address the situation. For example, no plan had ever been instigated, either involving me or of which I was aware, to investigate, monitor or address the situations causing me stress. As a consequence, I took the step of expressly requesting to Vicky Ubhi, in the presence of my partner on 19 May 2006 or thereabouts, that the University should follow the stress procedure to guarantee my health and wellbeing. A meeting took place on 30 May 2007 with me, Vicky Ubhi, Neil Gordon and Kamal Bechkoum present. At the meeting I felt that Neil Gordon was orchestrating who should say what. For example, as I turned towards him at one point, I noticed him making signs to Vicky Ubhi and Kamal Bechkoum behind my back. At this point I felt that he was not interested in helping me address the problems but only in controlling what was said to me and who should speak.
I requested that an investigation into the causes of my stress be carried out. I was very clear that I did not intend to pursue a punitive approach via a grievance, as I was interested to address the causes of my stress and the bullying I had experienced in SCIT.
As a result a “Stress Review” was carried out at my instigation to investigate the causes of stress in the workplace. During this investigation, no witnesses were spoken to and no evidence was looked at. No attempt was made to establish what had happened to me. The Investigator refused to look into allegations of bullying, lack of appraisal, racial harassment and breaches of contract. The sole recommendation was that I should be provided with a suitable office; ironically this was never implemented and I was without an office from May 2006 until my dismissal.
On 03 July 2006, I met with Andy Bridges for investigation into the causes of my stress. I met him in his office in the University’s School of Applied Sciences, to discuss and for him to take my witness statement with regard to the causes of my stress in SCIT. At the beginning of the meeting, he told me that he would also gather views from John Roche and that he did not have any knowledge of what he was doing. He asked me to explain to him the causes of my stress and I made clear that I was there to discuss the case of myself feeling bullied by John Roche in SCIT. I made him aware that I wasn’t there to revisit all the previous grievances, although I was very clear that for him to get a grasp of the stressful situation I been through during my employment, he could revisit my Personnel file and look at the grievances I had already put through during my employment with the University. He took note of this. I proceeded however, by making him aware of some of the events occurring during my employment, which created stressful situations for me. He agreed to look at these separately through my personnel file or files held by the University about me.
By the end of the meeting, he made me understand that he could contact me if he needed further clarification and that he was happy with all the information and he would proceed with the investigation.
In July 2006, I made the Dean, Robert Moreton aware that my contract was not being implemented fully and that I was not being treated fairly. The Deputy Vice Chancellor was also notified that promises made during the prior disciplinary proceedings to investigate and address the circumstances causing my stress had not resulted in any actual improvement.
On 27 July 2006, I sent an email to my colleagues in SCIT in reply to an email from Michele Palmer about a new marketing policy. I was concerned about how the policy would avoid discrimination to members of staff and students. She initially misinterpreted my email as criticism of her and so I clarified to her and offered to do so to the other recipients that I was only talking about the policy. I also apologised for any misunderstanding to her. Robert Moreton took the opportunity to discipline me by email without giving me a chance to explain. I felt annoyed that he was attempting to limit my academic freedom and expression, as my critique in relation to the policy was academically founded and intended to be constructive, within the normal scope of academic debate.
Later, in collating this exchange of emails as part of the evidence against me for disciplinary action, Robert Moreton excluded from the evidence my emails, which clearly outlined the academic basis for my comments.
In July I put in a claim for my expenses for visiting two students in London and New Milton in relation to their work placements. The combined claim was for £292. I forgot to put the expense claim through immediately following the visits and I only made the claim after 3 or 4 months at the start of the holiday period. Kamal Bechkoum asked to see me about the expense claim. He refused to deal with the claim by email. I felt that this was odd as the expense claim did not need to be authorised by management. On about 31 July 2006 I met with Kamal Bechkoum and asked what the problem was with my expense claim as it had been authorised by the placement office. He told me to listen to him or leave. I felt that I was being accused of stealing the money and got up and left. After about 15 minutes I returned and said that if they did not pay me within 7 days I would take legal action to recover the expenses. There was no reason not to pay my expense claim and I was given no reason for withholding the money. Kamal Bechkoum referred the matter to Robert Moreton and he authorised payment of my expense claim within 7 days. As a result of this the University took further disciplinary proceedings against me.
On 07 September 2006, Robert Moreton sent me an email clearly offering me the option of being assigned to a University Quality Standing Panel. I replied that I did not wish to undertake the role, as I did not have the right training and was anticipating other duties, including the curriculum development role, previously discussed with Kamal Bechkoum. Robert Moreton ignored my decision and ordered me to be on the Panel regardless. This upset me because I had been excluded from appraisal for the past year and should have had an opportunity to agree my duties in consultation with line management with respect to my skills, experience and aspirations, as stated in my contract.
On 20 September 2006 I wrote an email to the Standing Panel to explain that I had been forced into the role and neither wanted to do it nor had the necessary training. Belinda Cross replied to me on the same day, apologising and saying that SCIT had led her to believe that I agreed to the role.
On 12 September 2006, I met with Neil Gordon and Kamal Bechkoum in the meeting room of the SCIT ‘Deanery’ to discuss the outcome of the stress review investigation carried out by Andy Bridges.
At the meeting, Kamal Bechkoum was very happy with the outcome. Whilst reading the outcome both he and Neil Gordon were smiling. When he concluded, he mentioned that I would be relocated very soon to another office. I told him that I welcomed this decision but that I rejected the overall findings of the investigation because it was flawed and not carried out in a fair and professional manner. I later sent him an email reiterating this.
On 13 September 2006 I met with Kamal Bechkoum in his office for an appraisal meeting. He had not followed the procedures because he had already decided on the targets without giving me an opportunity to think about it. During the meeting, he did not suggest that there were any issues relating to my conduct or any problems, which needed to be discussed. I later discovered that he had at the time been, along with Robert Moreton, gathering evidence against me with a view to dismissing me.
On 14 September 2006, I met with Kevan Buckley and Robert Moreton in the office of Robert Moreton. I had requested the meeting to clarify some events involving myself and Kevan Buckley and because I wished to complain about events involving Kevan Buckley arising from his insinuation that I should resign from the Learning and Teaching Committee.
At the meeting, Robert Moreton started by refusing some written notes, which outlined the reason I had requested the meeting and summarised my complaint. He refused the document, although I told him that this was an informal complaint. He made very clear that he didn’t want any records of the meeting or the complaint itself. However, whilst speaking, he wrote on the document “This an informal complaint”. During the meeting, I had very quickly the impression that both Robert Moreton and Kevan Buckley were not taking the matter seriously and that they were making allegations, which I contested. During the meeting I asked Robert Moreton who told him that I had ‘stormed out’ of a recent meeting of the Learning and Teaching Committee. He refused to reveal a name. I explained again that I had complained politely against the chair, Kevan Buckley, about his insinuation for me to resign but had left the meeting quietly several minutes later. Kevan Buckley told Robert Moreton that I sent him an email of resignation. When I challenged him to present such an email, he first refused and then told me that he would send it to me after the meeting. I was still astonished by this, knowing that I had never sent such an email and said that this was unwelcome and that I felt offended by such false statements and events. Robert Moreton took the occasion to tell me that “people don’t like you/your perceptions”. I was very offended by this and it was unrelated to the matter at hand. During the meeting he never asked Kevan Buckley to present further evidence or clarification of events and was instead defending Kevan Buckley and openly in his favour.
The meeting concluded without any resolution or any clarifications being brought about. Indeed, I again asked Kevan Buckley to send the email he had referred to during the meeting and Robert Moreton did not want to receive the email or leave any trace of the discussion.
On 27th September 2006, I sought approval to attend a conference and this was granted by Kamal Bechkoum. The following day, I received an email stating that the review and revalidation process I had previously discussed my involvement in with Kamal Bechkoum, would be conducted during my absence via two meetings. This would be my main opportunity to put forward my ideas for the new curriculum. Although I delayed leaving for the conference by several hours to be able to attend the first meeting, when I requested that the second be moved by two days to enable my participation, both Peter Musgrove and Kamal Bechkoum refused, stating it was because the process had a tight deadline. However, the process continued for several months after this. I was very stressed by their decision and felt purposefully excluded.
I believe that Robert Moreton had been collating evidence against me for some time, in order to construct a disciplinary case to dismiss me. On about 11 and 12 October 2006 I became unable to work due to severe stress. By a letter dated 03 October 2006 I was asked to attend a Stage 3 disciplinary meeting for an alleged breach of the Stage 2 final warning. A Stage 3 disciplinary hearing was scheduled for 18 October 2006 but was postponed because of my health.
On 10 November 2006 I met with the University’s Occupational Health Advisor, Maggie Burton. My partner Melody Boyce also attended. The only reason that this meeting was arranged was because I phoned Occupational Health to ask why they had not contacted me. During the meeting she assured me that I would receive full support to return to work and that I should not return at that time as I was not well enough to do so. However, immediately following that meeting, she sent an email to the Personnel Services Manager, Neil Gordon. This email did not state that the main cause of my stress was bullying as discussed with me at the meeting, but said that it was because I had been passed over for promotion, which is something I never said. Neil Gordon had on 31 October 2006 communicated to Maggie Burton in an email that he needed to conduct the disciplinary hearing as soon as possible and that in his opinion, I was able to attend the hearing. I believe that this may have influenced the outcome of the meeting with Maggie Burton.
Whilst I was off ill and getting more stressed by the situation and was depressed, I sent two emails on 13 October 2007. These again made criticisms that I felt were justified. This resulted in the disciplinary action against me being raised from Level 3 to Level 4 (gross misconduct) and a new hearing was scheduled for 01 December 2006. On 24 November 2006 the Occupational Health Advisor, Maggie Burton, advised the Personnel Manager, Neil Gordon that I was unfit to attend the disciplinary meeting and on 27 November 2006 the hearing was postponed due to my ill health.
On 16 January 2007 my GP, wrote to the University confirming my ill health, its causes within harassment at work and my lack of fitness to participate in a disciplinary hearing. On 16 December 2006 and 13 and 27 February 2007 I cancelled my appointments with the University Occupational Health Physician because of my ill health. A further appointment was scheduled for 18 March 2007, but as this was a Sunday the appointment did not exist.
In February 2007 my IT account was suspended, along with all my employee services, such as library services and email, without any prior notification. This makes me believe that the University had already decided to dismiss me.
On 18 April 2007, I was very ill at home with depression. During the day, whilst I was sleeping, a Royal Mail Special Delivery card was delivered. I didn’t know who had sent it but felt too ill to go and collect the item or cope with any correspondence at the time.
On 24 April 2007 I was still very ill at home with depression. I awoke that day and was able to go downstairs to stay on the sofa in the lounge. I slept on and off most of the day and was awakened by a loud banging on the window. I ignored this at first out of disorientation upon waking, but as it continued and got louder I said to a man outside the window that I couldn’t get to the door. The banging stopped and I assumed the man had left. Some time later, my partner came in and told me that another card had been left by the Royal Mail. Again I had no idea who had sent it. I told her I wasn’t able to deal with it at that time, as I was feeling too ill. I believe that during April 2007 I was so ill that I could not visit my GP and he had to come out to my home to see me.
On 03 May 2007 I received a letter from the University incorrectly dated 01 April 2007, which enclosed notes of a disciplinary hearing, which had taken place on 23 April 2007 in my absence. The note indicated that I had been dismissed for Gross Misconduct because the University no longer had trust and confidence in me as an employee. I did not receive any reasons for my dismissal and was not given the opportunity to appeal. I believe that my dismissal was planned. The notes do not show that any evidence is considered or discussed in a balanced way in reaching the decision to dismiss me.
The University were fully aware that I had not received notification of the hearing and that I did not know that the disciplinary hearing was taking place. There was no attempt to contact me by phone or email prior to the hearing, although this has happened at the previous proceedings. In addition, the University were fully aware that I was not fit to attend a disciplinary hearing. Evidence of my ill health was provided throughout the time. No mention is made in the hearing notes of the fact that I was ill at the time. There appears to be no investigation into the allegations and the Dean, who presented the case for dismissal, was directly involved in the matters concerning the disciplinary allegation against me. It seems that no witnesses were called and a lot of very significant evidence is withheld from the proceedings including various emails. None of the evidence presented is cross-referred or questioned.
If I had been given an opportunity to defend myself against the allegations I believe that I would not have been dismissed. The University did not take the background to my dismissal or any surrounding events into account when deciding to dismiss me. They also failed to take into account any mitigating factors. There are a number of false statements made at the disciplinary hearing. For example, I have never been or been proposed to be a line manager and I believe that this would be impossible under my Terms of Contract. Secondly, there have never been any issues surrounding expenses for “home visits” as I did not carry out home visits. Thirdly, it is not true that I made weekly allegations of bullying. Fourthly, I did present information and evidence to the Stress Review but the investigator refused to investigate the allegations beyond one event.
The “Talking is not working” document is not a web-log, but a message posted for private on-line discussion forum which requires registration to view and post about bullying in academia. It is not clear how this document was obtained by the Dean. I was at the time studying for an MBA in Education at Keele University and doing research into bullying and harassment in post-92 Higher Education Institutions. When interested in the problem because of carrying out research, it is important to validate research by evidence. I was also outraged by the behaviour of the Management at the University.
All my actions were to protect my rights or the rights of other employees or my students. I tried to do the best for my colleagues and my students. I always acted to preserve my job and position. I believe that the University targeted me because I could not tolerate continuous mismanagement and lack of care towards me as an employee. I was always persuaded not to make my grievances formal and when I complained the facts were twisted so that I was blamed for the incident.
I strongly believe that I have a right to criticise the University, my employer at an academic level, but have lost my job for doing this. I am proud about being critical and carry out critical studies as major aspect of my research. I never meant to be offensive, personal or attack anyone in a personal sphere. I always made criticisms in an academic way. I believe that it is normal for academics to be critical to preserve academics freedom as enshrined in the Education Reform Act (1988).
I also believe the Dean, Robert Moreton, took a disliking to me and was instrumental in my dismissal. I was pushed into sending the emails because of the situation I had been placed in by the University. My actions were reasonable if put into the context of what had been going on. However the University were not interested in my defence and mitigation to the allegations against me as they wanted to dismiss me. I was frustrated by what I saw as serious mismanagement and told them so. I was frozen out of the department by a failure to allow me to develop my role and to participate in curriculum development and finally dismissed for no valid reason.
PS: Somebody wrote: "Those who can do, those who can't, bully".