Hunting the wrong witch

January 7, 2016

The recent resignation of Bob Lambert, a former undercover police officer turned academic, from his two posts at the University of St Andrews and London Metropolitan University after a pressure campaign has resonated widely in academic circles (“Former undercover police officer resigns academic posts”, 23 December).

There is a public inquiry investigating the past activities of Lambert and his former police colleagues, which hopefully will shed light on more than 40 years of undercover policing of political groups posing a threat of public disorder and/or political violence. However, Lambert’s story has been sensationalised and politicised beyond imagination. I spilled enough ink last year arguing why Lambert had a right to work at a UK university (“Why a controversial undercover cop should keep his academic post”, Opinion, 22 January 2015). It is unfortunate that public opinion has been skilfully mesmerised by the witch-hunt conducted by several newspapers and various far-Left and anarchist activists. Sadly, these actors have often been driven by political agendas and personal resentment rather than a serious understanding of how universities operate.

A sense of proportion and a commitment to non-partisan social justice suggest that UK universities face more serious problems than the murky past of a former undercover police officer or the inappropriate comments of Nobel prizewinner Sir Tim Hunt. Assisting mob-style attacks on Lambert and Hunt is particularly ironic when the same newspapers and activists remain silent, and at times are even complacent, about former Guantanamo Bay detainees being heralded as human rights champions across university campuses. Equally, it is very rare to see these actors combating the real troubles that plague UK universities: reactionary Islamist voices, gender segregation and the large influx of money that repressive Gulf states pump into our institutions. At a fragile time in the history of Western civilisation, we need to clearly distinguish friends from foes.

Stefano Bonino
Northumbria University

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