An academic’s conviction for harassing his former vice-chancellor via a website has been set aside, meaning that he could face a new trial.
Howard Fredrics, a former senior lecturer of music at Kingston University, was convicted in December 2009 of harassing Sir Peter Scott, Kingston’s vice-chancellor, by posting critical messages on a website the lecturer had set up, www.sirpeterscott.com.
Dr Fredrics was found guilty in his absence by Kingston Magistrates’ Court, having failed to appear for the hearing owing to ill health. A warrant was also issued for his arrest.
Judith Jewell, chairman of the bench, said: “We believe the course of conduct he pursued in setting up this website was intended to harass Sir Peter Scott...he ought to have known that such actions would amount to harassment.”
As well as criticising the vice-chancellor, Dr Fredrics had used the site to expose controversial practices at Kingston.
In 2008, he posted a recording of lecturers pressurising students to inflate their National Student Survey responses.
Dr Fredrics’ barrister, Richard Thomas of Doughty Street Chambers, argued that the lecturer was denied the right to a fair trial with legal representation because the court would not agree to postpone the case until Dr Fredrics was well enough to attend.
He also said that the prosecution was an “unjustified interference” with Dr Fredrics’ right to free expression.
On 23 April, the court set aside both the conviction and the arrest warrant on the grounds that the trial should not have gone ahead without the academic being present.
A directions hearing on 14 May will decide how to proceed with both the harassment charge and an outstanding offence under the Public Order Act, which relates to a chance encounter between Sir Peter and Dr Fredrics in Kingston.
The academic is accused of “threatening behaviour” towards the vice-chancellor.