After being arrested (and since cleared of any wrongdoing) for unfurling a protest banner at the Lib Dem party conference on the 16th of Septemer I was suspended from my duties as Guild VPE by the President till January 4th pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation. During my suspension the Guild told the NUS that I had been “suspended pending an internal investigation on matters not connected to the banner drop” and that “Edd was not suspended because of his campaigning activity or remit.” When my suspension was over the Guild released a statement saying “The alleged actions of the VPE at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference were not considered in the context of the allegations” and it has since been reported in Redbrick that my suspension upon returning to work after being imprisoned before trial “was due to five other allegations.”
It’s time the true facts were made public. I’m writing this not only to set straight the record on my suspension but also to make the point of how little control students have in the Guild. As an elected officer not only was I attacked by my own union for being wrongfully arrested but I was also punished for trying to implement my manifesto and speaking out against senior management. Included in this post are several pages from my disciplinary documents which I have scanned. Some names I have blanked out to protect identities.
Upon returning to work on September 27th Mark Harrop handed me THIS letter informing me of my immediate suspension.
The Banner Protest Allegations:
The first allegation reads: “You left work early on Friday 16th September 2011 without permission or notifying any other Guild officer or member of staff, and you failed to attend work during Welcome Week, Monday 18th to Friday 23rd September 2011.”
The reason why I didn’t attend work during that week was that I was being held at Winson Green Prison after being arrested for my protest at the Lib Dem party conference, as is well known. Obviously this allegation is directly related to the banner protest and it is a lie to say it wasn’t. I also deny that I left work early on that day though shall address that later in this post as it’s a separate issue.
The second allegation reads: “You were arrested by the police and as a result of your actions, you were refused bail with consequent imprisonment between 16th September 2011 and 26th September 2011.”
Again, obviously this allegation is directly related to the banner protest. I maintained at the time that I had not committed any crime; and the case since being thrown out of court due to the prosecution’s lack of evidence vindicates my position that the Guild was wrong to suspend and discipline me before trial. I also supplied the Guild’s disciplinary panel with a statement from a consultant solicitor for Frank Brazell & Partners with 34 years of experience stating that my arrest and denial of bail “appears to be a disproportionate response to the alleged offense and, given the time and location, would appear to have a political motive” and so I could not reasonably be expected to have predicted the police’s response to my actions.
The third allegation reads: “Prior to 16th September 2011, you failed to attend formal meetings scheduled with the University acting in your capacity as Vice President Education. This includes Senate meetings, Student Representation System Advisory Board (SRSAB), Graduate School Management Board, and Post Graduate computer science induction.”
Despite the opening passage, all of these meetings in fact took place after 16th of September whilst I was being held in prison (with the exception of the SRSAB meeting, which I did attend), thus this allegation is again directly related to the banner protest. Two months into the investigation against me the panel conceded that these meetings had in fact happened whilst I was in prison and the allegation was dropped.
A New Allegation: Whilst I was suspended I wrote THIS article for the Guardian newspaper in which I spoke about my arrest and suspension. After doing so I was quickly informed that I was also to be disciplined for doing this. The substantive allegation against me is that I said I had been suspended “indefinitely” when my suspension letter says “until further notice” and that misrepresenting my suspension letter constitutes gross misconduct. However Harrop used the word “indefinitely” when he handed me the letter and it was never explained how there’s any contradiction between “indefinitely” and “until further notice” in this context. Again this allegation is related to the banner protest albeit indirectly this time.
Also attached are minutes from an investigation interview I took part in on October 17th.
Leaving Work Early: “You left work early on Friday 16th September 2011 without permission or notifying any other Guild officer or member of staff“.
The details of this allegation can be read HERE. I did not ‘leave work’. At around 1pm on that day a student contacted me asking if I could come talk to them about cuts to their course, which I consider part of my role. My diary was clear for that time so around 3:45pm I went to go meet that student somewhere else on campus and talked with them for about an hour, after which I went home. I was available if needed the entire time via my phone however I was not contacted. My actions were not out of the ordinary, sabbatical officers are regularly invited to impromptu meetings. Furthermore it’s not clear what leaving work ‘without permission’ means when Guild officers are only obligated to work 36 hours a week on flexible time, nor is there any requirement to notify anyone upon leaving the building beyond signing out, which I did.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of cuts, does a student representative elected on a platform of “fighting department cuts” using an hour’s free time in his diary to talk to a student about cuts to their course sound like a reasonable allegation of “gross misconduct” having nothing to do with his campaigning activity or remit (as the Guild told the NUS it wasn’t)?
The fourth allegation reads: “You were disparaging, intimidating and aggressive towards staff members within the Student Voice department.”
This may appear to be a serious and non-political accusation at first, however I believe the specific details make clear its political nature as well as being weak in itself. The details of this allegation can be read HERE. It actually consists of three separate incidents regarding the Student Rep system, all of which stem from me being overruled by staff when attempting to carry out what I believed was my remit. In fact they even accuse me of “attempting to change the way the Student Rep system worked, as outlined in his manifesto” which I of course fully admit to doing. I think there’s a problem with staff blocking an elected officer from implementing a key part of his manifesto because it was “not acceptable to the university.” But regardless of your position on that, how can this be reconciled with Harrop’s claim that my suspension had nothing to do with my campaigning activity or remit?
Student Rep Video: The first incident (details can be read HERE) is regarding the Student Rep video. I felt it was poorly done and “too corporate in its message”, I wanted it to mention fighting cuts and thought I could have made a better video myself. One of the Guild managers (name blocked out in red) is even described as thinking my requests were ‘reasonable’. The main substantive allegation against me is that I described the video as being ‘crap’ in a meeting, that I was “shrugging his shoulders and rolling his eyes” and that this was “slightly childish… not angry but frustrated.” I only remember saying it was ‘rubbish’, but even if I had said ‘crap’ I think this allegation is far from constituting “gross misconduct” and that its being treated as such a serious matter can only be explained by the political context.
Student Rep Leaflet: The second incident (details can be read HERE) is regarding the Student Rep leaflet. I had wanted to include the phrase “fighting the fight to defend our education” or something along those lines, however staff members told me that including such things was “aggressive” and the university would object and so blocked me from doing this. The substantive allegation is that I said I was ‘sick and tired of staff telling me what to do.’ It should be noted that the staff member I said this to (name blocked out in black, who for the record did not issue the complaint against me herself) said that I did “not attack her personally; it is more fundamental than that” and apparently that I was “polite and lovely” when she was doing admin tasks for me. The allegation is not that I personally attacked any staff member, but rather that I got frustrated when staff blocked me from carrying out what I see as my remit for political reasons. This is fundamentally a conflict over who should run student unions: the elected student representatives or the staff; which is clearly a political issue and should be settled through democratic means.
Student Rep Facebook Groups: The third incident is regarding the Departmental Association Facebook groups I set up in the summer shortly before being suspended. I was told that the university did not approve and a staff member told me that I should delete them. I refused to do so and stated my case that they were a successful initative which no student had objected to, part of my manifesto commitment and remit and that frankly I did not think university management should be able to stop a Guild officer from merely creating Facebook groups. I was attempting to reform the Student Rep system so that names and contact details for every student rep could be publicised online and in posters in each department so students could actually find out who they are (many students I’ve talked to have no idea who their student rep is) however I was blocked from doing this due to ‘data protection’ issues. I thought this was ridiculous and that running in an election to be a student representative implicitly makes you a public personality, and it would not be difficult to get reps to sign a waiver allowing the Guild to give out their contact details to students in their department however this solution was not accepted.
The fifth allegation reads: “Your disruptive and erratic behaviour at the SRSAB meeting of 6th September 2011.”
Firstly, this was the meeting I was also accused of not turning up to in the same suspension letter, eventually they accused me of arriving late and then behaving disruptively. Details can be read HERE. The reason why I arrived late is that I and Mark Harrop had been called into an urgent meeting with Professor Authur regarding cuts to the Education Department, this being the only time he was available to meet us before University Senate. So I had a clash of meetings and since I ran on a platform of campaigning against department cuts I made the decision to prioritise this one, I think this was the right decision especially as Harrop didn’t turn up himself. Whether you agree with my decision or not I believe it to be a political one, and something I should be judged on by students not disciplined in secret for by a mostly-staff panel.
My ‘disruptive and erratic behaviour’ at the SRSAB meeting came down to me criticising the Student Voice report, again on political grounds. I’m accused of being “fairly animated but not over the top” by one witness and “a bit combative” by another. If I’d behaved so badly that it constituted gross misconduct I think they’d use stronger language than that. Furthermore it was not true that I had not informed anyone of my criticisms of the report before the meeting, indeed my predecessor Robert Hunter gave a witness statement describing how I’d let my views on it well known to him.
I am essentially being disciplined here for not toeing the line of Guild staff members present at a meeting; the debate being between myself and two senior staff in the room. The Guild staff wanted their report alone to be treated as “the definitive voice of students”, which I objected to and said this role should be left to Guild Council and the Guild Officer Team. The members of the Student Rep Advisory Board in fact sided with me and the Student Voice Report was significantly amended taking on board my criticisms, which wouldn’t have happened had I not been ‘a bit combative.’ This was a very serious political issue regarding democracy in the Guild as the proposal was to have a report supposedly giving the “Student Voice” that circumvented the opinion of any elected student representative and I believe I was right to speak against it.
Were these incidents gross misconduct? Standard practice states that suspension should be an act of last resort. An officer should typically receive a verbal warning, first written warning and final written warning with regards to their behaviour before more serious action is taken. However I was given no warning about my behaviour before being suspended and put before a disciplinary. Even if you believe that my actions constituted wrongdoing they still clearly come under a “minor fault” rather than “gross misconduct” and should have been dealt with informally under Section 4 of the Guild’s Discipline and Appeals policy rather than an immediate suspension. When wrapping up these allegations against me the investigatory panel states that “It is not clear that he ever intended to cause offense directly to anyone” and that “The VPE felt he was concentrated on issues rather than staff performances, but there are ways by which issues can be addressed that do not cause tension and negativity. On a number of occasions, the VPE did not achieve this balance in his approach to staff.” Even if I didn’t “achieve this balance” in my approach to staff, was moving immediately to a disciplinary with three month suspension the proportionate way to deal with this rather than say a verbal or written warning first?
Why Did This Happen?
The attack on my tenure began as soon as I was elected, after which the Guild started disciplinary procedures against me as a normal student (though VPE elect), based on extremely spurious grounds such as me writing a Facebook post encouraging people to go to Guild Council despite it being ‘shit’ or an absurd allegation that I had attacked a Jewish religious festival when I was in fact taking part in a peaceful protest outside a pro-Israel event (that was not a religious festival of any sort). This disciplinary was dropped with ‘no case to answer’ after I publicised the allegations.
Days before I entered office the university showed their hostility towards me by removing the VPE’s seat from University Council (in place for as long as anyone can remember) and replacing it with the Postgraduate Officer, a position on the Officer Team that was at the time… vacant. During my first week in office I spotted a proposal put before the Trustee Board to cut Guild employees pay by 11.5% over three years, and so in my capacity as a Trustee Board member I sent an email to Guild staff informing them of this proposal and offering to meet with them privately if they wanted to discuss it. All these emails were deleted from everyone’s inboxes when discovered and I was warned never to contact Guild staff again without clearing the communication with the Guild’s Human Resources Committee.
In September the Trustee Board passed a new disciplinary policy despite it not being ratified by a quorate Guild Council as per normal procedure. This new policy gave the Guild President all kinds of new powers and grounds under which to suspend and remove officers. I was then suspended under this new policy a mere two weeks after it was passed. It seems clear to me that this policy was created with getting rid of me in mind, and I think that if it wasn’t for the strong negative reaction to my suspension from the student body I would have most likely been removed. At the next Guild Council after I was suspended students voted to put this disciplinary policy on the meeting agenda and then voted to deratify it.
I repeatedly requested throughout my suspension that all the allegations against me be made public and for the matter to be decided at Guild Council, and that I would gracefully step down if I lost a vote of no confidence there. However the reasons were kept secret (I had been banned from speaking about it publicly) and any attempt to have this matter dealt with through democratic channels was blocked. A motion to have the matter taken to Guild Council for a vote was blocked by the Steering Committee who said “this motion should not go through to Guild Council as it calls for a change of policy which may contradict current policy within the Guild agreed by the Trustee Board.” Furthermore a motion at the Guild Officer Group meeting to remove the political allegations against me was blocked by the President who also stopped the allegations against me being read out, a recording of this meeting can be found HERE.
After an unjustifiably long investigation and disciplinary process I returned to office on January 4th having been found guilty of gross misconduct for my arrest, my missing meetings whilst imprisoned and for writing the article in the Guardian about my arrest. I was found not guilty of gross misconduct regarding the allegations concerning my relationship with Student Voice staff and the SRSAB meeting but was given a reprimand. Thus all the things I was found guilty of gross misconduct over (the basis for my suspension) were regarding my being arrested for something for which I was later acquitted of any wrongdoing in a trial that lasted less than half an hour.
Upon returning to office the Guild issued a statement stating that my “actions at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference were not considered in the context of the allegations” a total lie as has been shown. I complained about this the day it was posted and demanded it be removed, but after two weeks of me requesting to the President, the CEO and the Trustee Board that they remove this false information from their website none were willing to do so. I then posted what my allegations were on Facebook, after which the Guild took down their statement saying they were concerned it “may be misconstrued” and I agreed to take down my post also. They then told me they would publish my suspension letter along with a joint statement, however after almost two months no progress seems to have been made on this and they’re continuing to deny that the banner protest and arrest was the main reason for my suspension.
A student union can never be functional when its managers fight tooth and nail to marginalise elected representatives for being politically undesirable whilst trying to hide this behaviour from its members through lies.