A letter too far

July 25, 2003

Following last week's discovery that two-thirds of university staff believe that English funding council Hefce is insufferably bureaucratic, comes an affirming tale from veteran accountability campaigner John Pickering.

Professor Pickering phoned Hefce chief executive Sir Howard Newby last month with a relatively minor complaint about the rudeness of his staff. Sir Howard declined to take the call from Professor Pickering, who is still fighting for justice almost a decade after losing his job as pro-vice chancellor of Portsmouth University after blowing the whistle on his boss's expenses fiddling.

Sir Howard did send a letter to Professor Pickering stating: "It is always my policy to ask people to put complaints in writing." Professor Pickering duly did so. A few days later, he received a reply from head of audit Paul Greaves: "Could I please ask you to write again, in this instance to me, and that you have regard to the Hefce complaints procedureI"

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