Anarchist scholar sued over v-c web disclosure

UEL claims damages and a permanent injunction against Chris Knight. Melanie Newman reports

April 30, 2009

A professor who posted confidential documents relating to his former vice-chancellor on the internet is being sued for damages by the University of East London, which is also trying to force him to reveal who gave him the papers.

Chris Knight, a professor of anthropology, has been suspended by UEL since 26 March after making remarks about the G20 Summit protests. Managers said the comments brought the university into disrepute.

While suspended, Professor Knight posted on his website copies of evidence supplied to the disciplinary hearing of UEL's former vice-chancellor Martin Everett, including statements provided by senior managers. He removed the material from the site after the university sought a court injunction prohibiting him from displaying it.

UEL wants a court order demanding he disclose the person who supplied the documents, as well as damages for breach of contract and confidence, and a permanent injunction restraining him from disclosing any confidential information that "has come to his knowledge during his employment". The claim, filed at the High Court by UEL's solicitors on 9 April, is valued at "more than £15,000".

Professor Knight, who was chair of the University and College Union branch at UEL's Docklands campus, is defending the claim with UCU support.

As one of the leaders of the G20 Meltdown protest movement, he was suspended following interviews with newspapers in advance of the G20 Summit in London Docklands on 2 April. The Evening Standard quoted him as saying that if the police wanted "violence, they will get it ... if they press their nuclear button, I'll press mine".

At a preliminary hearing under UEL's disciplinary procedures, Professor Knight denied inciting or condoning criminal violence.

The university's investigating committee found that Professor Knight "clearly advocated damage to banking institutions and violence against the police ... and made no attempt to state that such views were personal to him and in no way those of the university". It said this constituted gross misconduct.

The professor had continued speaking to the media and had visited campus after his suspension when he was forbidden from doing so, it added, concluding that this was "serious insubordination".

By publishing documents relating to Professor Everett, Professor Knight had "wilfully and seriously breached confidentiality", the committee decided. A disciplinary panel will now be convened.

Professor Everett was suspended last June following allegations of poor leadership from senior managers and left earlier this year.

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