Confusion and anger after University of Bolton sacks husband and wife in media row

26 March 2015 | last updated: 11 December 2015

Two members of staff have been sacked by the University of Bolton for allegedly leaking information to the press about the vice-chancellor, George Holmes. In addition, a pro-vice-chancellor has left the university at short notice in unknown circumstances.

  • Unions say they will appeal decisions with members meeting later today to decide next steps
  • Details of vice-chancellor's £960,000 loan to buy second home in publicly available accounts
  • Arrangements for away days to the resort where the vice-chancellor moors his yacht sent to all staff
  • Unions says the decision is victimisation of local trade union officer

The sackings come after stories appeared in the national press about a £960,000 loan from the university to the vice-chancellor and details of expensive staff away days to a resort in the Lake District where the vice-chancellor moors his yacht.

Damien Markey, a senior lecturer in visual effects for film and television, was sacked on Friday afternoon. His wife Jennifer, an academic administrator in the health and community studies department, was dismissed on Monday. Both deny any involvement in leaking stories.

Mr Markey was pulled out of an internal review at 2pm on Friday afternoon and told to report to a disciplinary hearing at 2:30pm. 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.

He denied all the charges but was summarily dismissed 45 minutes later. The evidence against him was that the CEO of the University Technical College run by Bolton University said he overheard a mobile conversation when Markey used the words 'boats' and 'lakes'. He was told this proved he was involved in the leaking of the story in the Times about staff away days in the Lake District, despite details having been sent to all staff.

Mr Markey was also told that because he, along with others, had raised concerns by students in the internal review, it meant he was focused on bringing the university down. The concerns were agreed in advance by all those involved in the review, including a visiting academic from Coventry University.

They asked why students had complained of not having sufficient tools after the university had invested £791,000 in the Centre for Performance Engineering (CAPE). One of the complaints against Mr Markey at the hearing came from the head of CAPE, Nick Reynolds.

In February it was revealed that the university had lent vice-chancellor Holmes £960,000 to buy a home near to Bolton. This information is clearly reported on the last page of the  university's accounts published on its website here.

The university chief was living in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, some 50 miles from the university, and the loan was to enable him to buy a house in four acres of land near Bolton, while awaiting the sale of his family home in Wakefield.

The Daily Mail reported that his Wakefield house did not have a 'For Sale' sign outside and that it belonged to a woman understood to be his new partner. Holmes refused to comment on the loan deal, as did his wife, who lives nearby.

Mr Markey is a member of UCU and was the secretary of the local branch. UCU says it believes that the decision to dismiss him was because of his trade union activities. His wife is a member of the local Unison branch.

Both unions have said they will appeal the decisions and that union members are meeting later today (Thursday) to decide their next steps. UCU said many staff are angry, confused and frightened after the extraordinary dismissal of two of their colleagues and the shock resignation of the pro-vice-chancellor.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'These sackings are completely unjustified and quite staggering. There was no investigation and the whole sorry episode has ridden roughshod over the university's own procedures.

'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. We will be appealing these decisions as well as instructing our 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 axing staff without evidence is the response of a desperate despot, not a university vice-chancellor.'


UPDATE: please


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