A newly elected staff governor at London Metropolitan University has been suspended over a prior conviction for terrorism, while a union activist and vocal opponent of the university’s management has received the same treatment over his role in the man’s appointment.
Jawad Botmeh, research manager at London Met’s Working Lives Research Institute - where he started work five years ago - was picked by employees last month as the university’s only elected staff governor.
However, the Palestinian was suspended from London Met last week over his 20-year jail sentence for conspiracy to cause explosions, relating to the 1994 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London.
The university also suspended Max Watson, chairman of London Met’s Unison branch and a research administrator at the WLRI.
In his blog, Mr Watson defends his role in appointing Mr Botmeh five years ago, saying he (and other colleagues) had “looked beyond” the prison sentence to concentrate instead “on his ability to do the job”.
Unison campaigned on behalf of Mr Botmeh during his imprisonment, with a national conference motion passed in 2003 stating that he had been wrongly convicted.
Mr Watson adds in the blog that as Unison branch chair he has been involved in fights against job cuts, outsourcing and the UK Border Agency, which had led to “constant attacks from management” over the past four years.
In an email sent to staff in January, Malcolm Gillies, London Met’s vice- chancellor, criticises Mr Watson in relation to the “business process redesign” project for which the university has engaged private consultancy firm Capita.
An email sent by Mr Watson “advises staff not to cooperate with the workshops”, Professor Gillies writes.
“The tone and content of Max Watson’s email is unhelpful and disappointing, and the university is making a formal complaint to Unison head office about what it sees as a breach of the spirit of the university’s union recognition and facilities agreements,” he adds.
Trials and punishment
Mr Botmeh, who has always maintained his innocence, was sentenced in 1996 alongside fellow Palestinian science graduate Samar Alami for conspiring to set off a car bomb outside the embassy in South Kensington, an explosion that injured 20 people.
The pair were also found guilty of a second car bombing 13 hours later outside a Jewish charity in North London, which injured six people.
Mr Botmeh, who was released in 2008, won support from Gareth Peirce, solicitor for the wrongly jailed Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, and campaigning journalist Paul Foot, who died in 2004.
Amnesty International has said it was concerned that the pair had been “denied their right to a fair trial”.
Mr Botmeh’s supporters insist that the university was made aware of his convictions at the start of his employment.
Catherine Maguire, Unison branch secretary, said: “If London Met management move to dismiss either Jawad or Max, we will do everything in our power to fight this witch-hunt, including taking industrial action if necessary, to have them reinstated and with an apology they both deserve.”
A London Met spokesman said the institution had taken “immediate action”, including “a number of suspensions”, after a “matter of concern” was raised over Mr Botmeh’s appointment to the board.