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.”