A music lecturer who has waged a decade-long war against his former vice-chancellor has been told that he is no longer an international fugitive.
The decision by Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court to issue an absolute discharge in the case of Howard Fredrics concludes one of UK higher education’s longest and most bizarre legal sagas.
Eleven years ago, Dr Fredrics was dismissed from his job as a music lecturer at Kingston University, which led him to create what he called a “satirical whistleblowing website” using the name of Sir Peter Scott, who led the university until 2010.
Over the years since, Dr Fredrics and his wife, Lori, have posted on the site songs and videos directed at Sir Peter, as well as displaying documents and recordings that they believed to show wrongdoing at Kingston.
The US academic was initially convicted of harassing Sir Peter, who is now a columnist for The Guardian, based on the contents of the site in 2009, but he was acquitted after a retrial in 2010. Sir Peter’s attempt to stop Dr Fredrics using the domain name www.sirpeterscott.com was rejected by the World Intellectual Property Organisation in 2009, which said that the educationalist did not have trademark over the name.
However, Dr Fredrics was convicted of “using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour” over an encounter with Sir Peter at a bus stop in Kingston in 2009, which caused him to flee the country because of what he has called “anti-Semitic death threats” made against him.
He was subsequently named by Surrey Police in 2012 as second on a most-wanted list of criminals who had fled the country.
Dr Fredrics has refused to travel to the UK from his home in New Jersey to answer the charges, citing lack of money and fears for his safety.
A hearing was finally held in his absence earlier this month, and he was given an absolute discharge on 12 October, meaning that there will be no punishment.
In an email, Dr Fredrics told Times Higher Education that he was “pleased that the legal matter is now closed”.
“It was upsetting to be publicly branded as the ‘second most-wanted international fugitive’ over something that should never have been prosecuted as a criminal matter,” he explained.
He said he believes that the insult he made against Sir Peter would have been “protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution had it occurred in my native America”.
Dr Fredrics also questioned why the case had not been dropped earlier and how much it had cost to conduct, saying that it had cost him £20,000 in legal fees, a sum that “constituted the bulk of my remaining life savings”.
Despite the court’s findings, Dr Fredrics said that he would keep his website, which he claimed had “received tens of millions of hits”.
Sir Peter declined to comment.