Postgrad's war on principal

December 1, 1995

A former Aberdeen University postgraduate could face imprisonment after being found guilty of breaching a court order banning him from disseminating defamatory information about the university.

Peter Dow has been waging a campaign for three years, protesting at his treatment by the university after internal and external examiners failed his MSc thesis on magnetic resonance imaging. He made unsuccessful appeals at every level of the university's appeals procedure, with the final appeal being rejected by the university court. Aberdeen's principal, Maxwell Irvine, told the Court of Session in Edinburgh that Mr Dow's dissertation had been only around 20 pages and of extremely poor quality.

The university took out an interim interdict against Mr Dow after he began disrupting university meetings and distributing leaflets. In a written judgment, Court of Session judge Lord Kirkwood said he was satisfied that Mr Dow had clearly been shown to have been in flagrant breach of the court orders and in contempt of court.

"I am satisfied that the allegations complained of are clearly defamatory and are totally without substance," he said.

"In my opinion, no valid criticism can be directed against Professor Irvine, the university court, the University of Aberdeen or its officials, and I consider that, so far as this respondent is concerned, they acted throughout with consummate fairness and with a great deal of restraint."

In the judgment Lord Kirkwood referred to Mr Dow's leaflet which was headed: "The Criminals and Gangsters who Maladminister the University of Aberdeen."

Mr Dow accused the university authorities of being "potential killers, heading towards acts of manslaughter" by interrupting his "life-saving research work". He alleged university mismanagement in letters to MPs, funding councils, and professional and educational bodies, despite further interdicts.

The university eventually petitioned the Court of Session in Edinburgh to uphold the interdict. Mr Dow, who represented himself, claimed the proceedings were illegal since those bringing the action did not have a mandate to call themselves the University of Aberdeen, and therefore there was no valid interdict in existence. Mr Dow will return to court in two weeks for sentencing, which could include a jail sentence.

Professor Irvine said it was unfortunate the university had to go to such lengths to protect its good name and uphold its reputation. But Lord Kirkwood's findings had fully justified the university's stance, and it was to be hoped this would signal the end of the matter.

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