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Fredrics cleared of harassment charge

An academic has been cleared of harassing his former vice-chancellor via a “satirical whistleblower website” – but has been convicted of a public order offence relating to a meeting between the two.

Howard Fredrics, former senior lecturer in music at Kingston University, was acquitted by magistrates of harassing Sir Peter Scott, the institution’s vice-chancellor.

The charge centred on a website set up by Dr Fredrics, www.sirpeterscott.com, which he describes as “a satirical whistleblower website containing documentary evidence, musical songs and music videos relating to alleged misconduct by university officials”.

However, Dr Fredrics was found guilty of a lesser offence under the Public Order Act relating to a chance meeting with Sir Peter in Kingston.

Dr Fredrics says in a statement: “I am pleased by the court’s decision on the harassment charge, which is a tremendous victory for the right to free speech in Britain, and quite disappointed that the Crown Prosecution Service decided to pursue these charges in the first instance.

“Most importantly, I am extremely troubled by the fact that [Sir Peter] decided to lodge such a complaint, particularly since he has made public statements in the past to the effect that he did not wish to impede my right to free speech in relation to the website.”

Dr Fredrics said he would consider appealing against the public order conviction, for which he has yet to be sentenced.

Sir Peter said: “I am glad that Dr Fredrics was found guilty of threatening and abusive behaviour likely to cause distress to members of the public after he confronted me in Kingston town centre a year ago.

“Contrary to his allegations, I have never attempted to limit his freedom of speech. My only objection has been to his using my name for his website and untrue allegations against my colleagues. Both these charges were brought by the Crown Prosecution Service – long ago I, and the university, took a decision to ‘live with’ Dr Fredrics’ antics.”

As well as criticising Sir Peter, Dr Fredrics had used the site to expose controversial practices at Kingston.

In 2008, he posted a recording of lecturers trying to pressure students into inflating their National Student Survey responses.

Yesterday’s hearing was the conclusion of a lengthy series of legal battles.

In December 2009, magistrates found Dr Fredrics guilty in his absence of harassing Sir Peter and issued a warrant for his arrest. Dr Fredrics said he failed to appear at the hearing because of ill health. In April 2010, his barrister successfully argued that the lecturer was denied the right to a fair trial with legal representation because the court would not agree to postpone the case until he was well enough to attend.

The conviction and arrest warrant were set aside on the grounds that the trial should not have gone ahead without the academic being present.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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