Harassment conviction set aside for now

April 29, 2010

An academic who was found guilty of harassing his former vice-chancellor has won at least a temporary reprieve after the conviction was set aside by the courts.

Howard Fredrics, a former senior lecturer of music at Kingston University, was convicted last December of harassing Sir Peter Scott, Kingston's vice-chancellor, by posting critical messages on a website, www.sirpeterscott.com.

He was found guilty by Kingston Magistrates' Court in his absence, having failed to appear for the hearing due to ill health, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He subsequently indicated that he had returned to his native US, claiming that he had received death threats from "an extremist terror group".

As well as criticising Sir Peter on the website, Dr Fredrics had used it to expose controversial practices at Kingston. In 2008, he posted a recording of psychology lecturers pressurising students to inflate their National Student Survey responses.

The students were told that they would not find good jobs unless the university scored well.

At a hearing of the court last week, Dr Fredrics' barrister, Richard Thomas, argued that he had been denied the right to a fair trial with legal representation because the court would not agree to postpone the trial until Dr Fredrics was well enough to attend. Mr Thomas added that the prosecution was an "unjustified interference" with Dr Fredrics' right to free expression.

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 the harassment charge and an outstanding public order offence relating to a chance meeting between Sir Peter and Dr Fredrics in Kingston.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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