Whistleblowers: 'Oxford three' back one

November 2, 2001

Race harassment officer Dee Singh has resigned from Oxfordshire Race Equality Council, claiming that the "power and influence" of Oxford University has hampered his work on behalf of aggrieved Oxford staff and students.

He has won the backing of two aggrieved former Oxford students and a university research fellow who feel that the council has failed to adequately support their cases against the university. The council denies the claims.

Mr Singh resigned in protest from Orec last month. After raising his concerns, he faced counter allegations from Orec, through disciplinary charges, criticising his attitude to colleagues and his performance.

But in his disciplinary defence, he said: "I allege I am being victimised because of the university cases... The power and the influence of the university needs to be investigated in its relationship with the institutions in Oxford."

Mr Singh was furious when, in June this year, Orec director Adrian Harper Smith withdrew Orec's support for an Oxford research fellow whom Mr Singh had been assisting in a high-profile grievance case against the university.

The research fellow, who has asked not to be named, was ejected from his office by security guards last year on the orders of a line manager, who had previously been criticised for "forceful and abrasive" behaviour.

Mr Singh played a key role in securing an independent inquiry into the affair, but Orec's support for the scholar was terminated in June against Mr Singh's advice. Mr Singh wrote to Mr Harper Smith: "I am deeply unhappy and upset that you have shut down this case... The decision is premature and rash in my opinion."

Orec told The THES that it closed the case "as a result of (the scholar's) failure to respond to numerous communications and to provide any instructions in response. No contact has been received from him since regarding his claim."

The scholar has, however, joined up with two former Oxford students to raise formal complaints about what they claim is Orec's inadequate support.

One of the students, Nadeem Ahmed, was supported by Orec in a court case against the university, but since Mr Singh's departure, he says Orec has ignored his requests for further help.

Orec said that Mr Ahmed turned down two offers to discuss his case in September. It said the other student, postgraduate Ali Erdem, has made "no request for support or advice in relation to his claim for several months".

On August 6, Mr Ahmed and Mr Erdem wrote to Orec's chair of personnel, Jo Aldhouse. They said that Mr Singh had created an invaluable support network for "the Oxford three", but they had all encountered problems.

They wrote: "In each of these cases, we have been painfully made aware of delay, obstruction and obfuscation in dealing adequately with our various complaints."

The three have since complained to the city and county councils. They fear that disciplinary action taken against Mr Singh may have been linked to his voicing his concerns.

Mr Singh was accused of failing to "perform agreed duties" when he missed a deadline for reporting on work progress. He was also accused of "unacceptable behaviour" based on two incidents, including a claim that he applied inappropriate pressure to solicit a lift to a meeting from a colleague.

Orec said it was pursuing legal action against Mr Singh for making "defamatory statements". It said that it could not deal with complaints from the Oxford three as they had failed to invoke the procedure. Orec stressed that it was committed to providing support to victims of race discrimination.

Solicitors for Oxford University emphatically denied that it had any involvement in Orec decisions.

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