UCU furious over Bolton ‘sackings for alleged press leaks’

Union says branch secretary and wife both deny any involvement in leaking stories

March 26, 2015

Two members of staff have been sacked by the University of Bolton for allegedly leaking information about the vice-chancellor to the press, the University and College Union has said.

Damien Markey, a senior lecturer in visual effects for film and television and secretary of the Bolton branch of the UCU, was sacked on Friday afternoon, the UCU said in a statement.

His wife, Jennifer Markey, an academic administrator in the health and community studies department, was dismissed on Monday, the union added. Both deny any involvement in leaking stories.

The sackings come after a number of stories appeared in the press about expensive staff awaydays to a lake where the vice-chancellor, George Holmes, moors his yacht and a £960,000 loan from the university to Professor Holmes to facilitate the purchase of a house. Professor Holmes had, until that point, been living in Yorkshire, about 50 miles from the university.

Times Higher Education, which broke the story about the £100,000 trips to Lake Windermere, wishes to make clear that neither Mr nor Mrs Markey was the source of the story. The UCU has also pointed out that the information about the vice-chancellor’s loan - first reported in the Daily Mail - was contained in publicly available accounts.

According to the UCU, Mr Markey was pulled out of an internal review on 20 March and told to report to a disciplinary hearing. At the hearing, he was accused of “making malicious statements about colleagues, leaking information to the press aimed at damaging the university, and bringing the university into disrepute”, the UCU said.

He denied all the charges, but was summarily dismissed 45 minutes later, according to the union. He was told that he had been overheard using the words “boats” and “lakes’” while talking on the phone, and that this had proved that he was involved in leaking the story about staff awaydays, the union said in its statement.

It is claimed that Mr Markey was also told that because he, along with others, had raised concerns by students in an internal review earlier that day, it meant that he was “focused on bringing the university down”.

Less information was given about Mrs Markey’s dismissal in the UCU’s statement. She was a member of the local Unison branch, and both unions have said that they will appeal against the decisions and are to hold a joint meeting.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said the sackings were “completely unjustified and quite staggering”.

“There was no investigation, and the whole sorry episode has ridden roughshod over the university’s own procedures,” she said. “In our view, what Bolton has done is unlawful and represents trade union victimisation, and they can expect to face the full force of the national union.”

Ms Hunt confirmed that the UCU would be appealing the decisions and instructing its lawyers.

“At the moment we are trying to calm down other staff members, who are understandably angry and concerned by the university’s behaviour. Nobody likes looking a bit silly in public, but to start axeing staff without evidence is the response of a desperate despot, not a university vice-chancellor,” she said.

Unison North West Regional Secretary Kevan Nelson said: “The university has treated Jenny very unfairly and they have not followed the normal procedure. We will be supporting Jenny through the appeal process. 

“We are alarmed that the University of Bolton has taken this arbitrary and vindictive decision and we will be challenging this by all available means including legal action.”    

A Bolton spokesman said that the university was “comfortable that procedures have been followed and as yet no appeal has been lodged”.

“The process is not connected with a staff member being a trade union official,” he said. “The university does not comment on the merits of individual cases.”  

chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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Reader's comments (7)

This is the tip of the iceberg at Bolton Uni. Increasingly depressed and bullied staff and a Vice-Chancellor who can broker no criticism. The moderate and well liked Pro VC seems to have gone with no notice? The Uni is in about to open a high school (with no experience) and to persuade the council to allow it free rein over parts of the town centre. Worthy of a wider investigation - a serious scandal is unfolding there.
You could not make this up. Indicative of all that is wrong in the sector. Whatever happened to legislation to protect union representatives from victimisation. Shame on Bolton's executive. What they sow, shall they reap.
This story makes very sad reading. It would appear that the leadership of this institution is working in the dark ages of industrial relations. How in this day and age of professional and ethical standards can an institution get away with dismissing anyone, let alone members of the same family (with the obvious implications for their personal and family circumstances) apparently without any evidence or indication of due process. This seems to be an unprofessional and vindictive approach! I wonder what the Bishop of Manchester (Chairman of the Board of Governors) thinks about the moral and reputational issues associated with this! I applaud the stance taken by the Trade Unions and hope both they and the media continue to pursue this matter until the “correct” individual/s who are responsible for bringing the institution into disrepute are brought to account.
Is this not a case of the emperors new clothes! Who is bringing the University in to disrepute? To dismiss people with no evidence then to not even follow the Universities own policies. One only has to put in the vice chancellors name into a search engine to see its not very positive. Then when meeting rooms were booked to hold meetings for members of staff to discuss this with the unions, rooms bookings were cancelled. Is there not a governing body? If so how are they allowing this scandal to carry on. Ethics anyone?
How can they do this with no proof! There have been numerous stories about the goings on at the university. These are upstanding members of the community who would do anything to help anyone. Yet the man who's took a loan out, who's actions seem a little dodgy, has sacked a union rep and his wife because of a few stories that were publicly available???? Damien has built that course up and produced students that have gone on to work for Oscar winning companies. Sounds like a bully didn't like someone standing up to him and had thrown his weight around in a strop. Pity it's their children who are going to suffer through this!
Shameful but, alas, all too typical in the UK these days. I was once offered part-time work at what was then Bolton Institute. Fortunately, I got a full-time offer elsewhere shortly therafter. Looks like I dodged a bullet, as they say. I'm pleased now to be in a country where such things are almost impossible. Let's hope the UCU stirs itself from the usual cringe position to defend them.
The dismissal of these two lecturers is illegal, and goes against the Employment Rights Act, ACAS Code of Practice and the universities own policies. As students, we are shocked that the university has done this, and concerned for our education, as well as worried for out lecturers who have been so cruelly treated. We will not stand by and watch lecturers of University of Bolton be bullied and victimised because of the VCs own adgenda. #wearedamo

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