Another helping of witches’ brew

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When he was younger Phil’s experiences were all-important

On The Eye our Editor Phil Parry has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil on BBC Wales Today – speak and be quick about it!

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

After disclosing why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, and how information from trusted sources is crucial at this time of crisis, as well as showing that the concept of ‘news’ might be changing forever, here he looks at the fact that words for journalists are critical while others bandy them about apparently without thinking.

 

‘Witch-hunt’ is often used…

The word “witch-hunt” is being used willy-nilly now by figures at the centre of a storm of controversy.

A ‘super-agent’ in the tragic case of the transfer to Cardiff City of footballer Emiliano Sala stood accused of fraud but claimed he was victim of a “witch-hunt”, and the word has been deployed in the extraordinary controversy at scandal-hit Swansea University (SU), where the police are investigating alleged bribery in a multi-million pound land deal and senior officials including the former Vice-Chancellor (VC) Richard Davies, have been sacked for “gross misconduct”.

‘It’s a witch-hunt’

The disgraced, but now re-instated to UK cabinet, one time Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has used it, US President Donald Trump wheeled it out, and the headline-grabbing Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has employed the word too, as protests erupted in the country’s capital against corruption and fraud.

Now the contentious Israeli politician Binyamin Netanyahu this week began an astonishing trial for alleged corruption after also accusing his detractors of orchestrating a politically motivated “witch-hunt” against him.

Binyamin Netanyahu – ‘I am victim of a witch-hunt’

Mr Netanyahu has denied charges that he received illegal gifts from wealthy benefactors and conspired with press barons to change media laws and regulations in return for favourable coverage. He was in court in the first criminal trial ever against a sitting Israeli leader.

He had tried to pass laws that would have granted him immunity from prosecution, but failed to gain the necessary majority.

Agent Willie McKay – another supposed victim of a ‘witch-hunt’

Mr Sala’s ‘super-agent’ Willie McKay was part of a controversial deal to bring his charge to Wales in a record signing for the club, and has, like Mr Netanyahu, denied the charges against him.

Meanwhile, although misspelt, support was clear in the supposed ‘witch-hunt’ at SU for contentious ex-Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) Hilary Lappin-Scott who we exclusively revealed has now left. An unbelievable anonymous campaign in her defence was undertaken using gmail or email, with messages sent to staff at SU as well as senior journalists (including me) and Welsh politicians.  One message said:  “Only Hillary (sic) can save Professor Boyle (new Vice-Chancellor{VC} at Swansea Universityfrom the same incompetents that undermined Richard Davies’ stellar transformation of your Institution for the Region”.

Hilary Lappin-Scott – ‘Why is this witch-hunt continuing?!’

Another read:  “Last week’s email was blocked – here it is below for completeness’ sake. Ask yourself: what else is the leadership keeping from you?… Why is this witch hunt therefore still continuing?”.

But The Eye have shown how Professor Lappin-Scott had enraged her own staff at the time, by sending tweets from glamorous parts of the world on university ‘business’, and her exploits became the subject of our satirical writer. Despite this, the anonymous communications have claimed in the past that Professor Lappin-Scott would lead the university to “an era of gold and honey”.

Sacked former Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University Richard Davies and the ex-School of Management Dean Marc Clement are still under investigation – victims of a ‘witch-hunt’?

Apart from the suspension of Professor Davies, the Dean of his School of Management, Marc Clement, has also been dismissed and is under investigation, as well as several other top-level officials during the astonishing ‘witch-hunt’ inquiry into the multi-million pound Llanelli ‘Wellness Village’ land deal where the police have been called in.

The troubled institution has confirmed that apart from looking into the campaign itself, the police were involved in investigating the alleged bribery during the so-called ‘witch-hunt’.

An official statement from Swansea’s ‘Associate Director Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Head of Legal and Compliance Services’ stated :  Alongside the University’s internal disciplinary process, there is also on-going police involvement (i) with regard to the issues uncovered during the University’s investigation; and (ii) anonymous communications sent to University staff relating to the suspensions and disciplinary processes. The matters under investigation are very serious. The University has invested a significant amount of resource investigating the alleged misconduct, as have the authorities. It is essential that nothing is done to undermine the on-going processes. They must be allowed to run their course without interference.”

The anonymous computer campaigner has said that Andrew Rhodes was ‘shameless’

This statement included another libellous message in the anonymous computer campaign which was sent from the invented address ‘Vanitas Vanitatum’, with an earlier one sent to staff at the institution concerning an awards ceremony, saying:  “… your Registrar (Andrew Rhodes) was shamelessly picking up Prof Richard Davies’s award – clearly he made (ex-Pro Vice-Chancellor [PVC]) Hillary (Lappin-Scott) stay at home”, adding:  “I am sure you will all join me in congratulating him (Professor Clement).

The university’s response to the unidentifiable computer communications read:  “The below email has been referred to the police to consider, together with the previous anonymous emails that the University’s staff and others have received”.

Steve Chan – why did Swansea University employ a convicted fraudster?

The stunning ‘witch-hunt’ campaign at the scandal-hit university also forms a worrying backdrop to an exclusive disclosure on The Eye, that officials had employed a fraudster called Steve Chan who used to work on a contract at the management school, and after they were alone in revealing that a previous Dean there accused of bullying had died.

They showed how Chan had even represented the university in advising an international agency on the ways to combat fraud

Chan had been imprisoned by a court in Boston for four years and three months, and ordered to pay millions of dollars in compensation. His jail term was followed by three years of supervised release, after he admitted one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of mail fraud, he was also ordered to pay restitution of $12,596,298.

Your friend
The anonymous campaigner at Swansea University backed Hilary Lappin-Scott

But the campaign inside Swansea University alleging a ‘witch-hunt’ has been covered only partially by the mainstream media, and has been conducted ever since the incredible investigation was launched.

In part, one recent gmail to staff as well as the Chair of the Swansea University’s council read:   “Why are these things happening and being leaked to Sion Barry (the Western Mail Business Editor) and, in turn, Phil Parry (someone trolling Professor Hillary {sic} Lappin-Scott) whilst in the middle of an independent internal investigation?”.

Is it a ‘kangaroo court’ AND a ‘witch hunt’ as said in the anonymous computer campaign?!

Another added:  “Appended below you can find the previous installments (American spelling) and claims there has been “A trial by media, a kangaroo court, a selection of evidence and suspensions before interviews – almost as if the facts were at odds with the desired outcome”. Although again misspelt a further gmail was clear in the search for a new VC: “Please Hillary (sic) (Lappin-Scott) out (put?) your hat back in the ring!”.

The Eye’s journalists were ‘vexatious’ apparently…

But university officials have been less keen than the person behind the anonymous computer campaign to give The Eye information – this time about Chan’s background, and we have been told in the past our questions about him in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request had been refused on the grounds they were “vexatious.

Four of the questions asked in the FOIA were:

  • What was the exact date that Professor Steve Chan of the School of Management registered for his Ph.D at Swansea University? 
  • What was the exact date that he undertook his viva voce examination for his Ph.D? 
  • Who were the members of his Ph.D viva committee (including external examiners)? 
  • Who approved the appointment of the supervisors for his Ph.D? 
The deceased Nigel Piercy formerly Dean of the Management School with his son Niall beneath a portrait of Margaret Thatcher

The scandalous school itself has also made the news for all the wrong reasons, witch-hunt or otherwise. The former Dean, Nigel Piercy, left under a cloud after two turbulent years in charge, and contrary to convention, his death (which we first revealed) was not marked in traditional fashion by Swansea.

Professor Piercy quit more than three and a half years ago, after relentless pressure from The Eye, when he clashed repeatedly with staff, warned them the school was “not a rest home for refugees from the 1960s with their ponytails and tie-dyed T-shirts”, and described trade unionists as “unpleasant and grubby little people…usually distinguished only by their sad haircuts, grubby, chewed fingernails and failed careers”.

No eulogy for Nigel Piercy

Professor Lappin-Scott did not give a eulogy to Professor Piercy to commemorate his death and as she was, initially, his line manager, this was thought to be highly unusual.

With all this controversy swirling around in the background, SU staff have told journalists on The Eye they are amazed by the university’s ranking in recent tables, and that Professor Davies offered ‘good value for money’.

They have reacted to them by pouring scorn on some of his comments which have been reported in the mainstream media, in particular Professor Davies’ remarks about Mr Rhodes and SU Chair Sir Roger Jones. The Eye have received observations such as “this is TV police drama stuff”.

The anonymous internal campagner said Sir Roger Jones should look into it

Among Professor Davies’ statements in the grievance letter which was published, are the lines that after the meeting at which he was suspended, he was followed by Sir Roger and another member of the University Council to his room, “Sir Roger Jones acted as the ‘soft cop’ and (the other member of the council) as the ‘tough cop’.

“When in my room, both put pressure on me to agree to a deal. I resisted resolutely and made it clear that the accusations were without substance and that I would fight to clear my name. There is a clear inference here that the only reason Sir Roger … followed me to my room to offer me a deal was because they knew that these allegations were unfounded and disingenuous and simply wanted to avoid a full investigation through which they knew I would be exonerated.” The BBC reported that:  “Swansea University’s suspended vice-chancellor says he has been ‘left out to dry,’ in a letter of grievance.”

Richard Davies said they should have realised who he was

But apart from attacking the mainstream media’s reporting of the unfolding drama in this ‘witch-hunt’, Professor Davies’ sense of his own importance was also questioned by staff. It was reported that he had said in his grievance letter: “Given my position, the authority of the council should have been sought prior to any decision being madeIt cannot be right that a more junior university employee can of their own volition suspend the vice chancellor without first accounting to the council and seeking their authority and advice.”

Book posterAn article from 2005 in Private Eye gives a flavour of Professor Davies’ background. It is headlined ‘University of Wails’ and describes the cuts “planned by vice-chancellor Prof Richard Davies and his managers; and (how there was) a further complaint over Davies’s appointment of (an old mate) to head the new school of management at an annual salary believed to be around £105,000″.

Perhaps this too will be classed as a ‘witch-hunt’ by those facing controversial accusations at SU.

Or maybe the words of Shakespeare are more relevant:  “…protest too much”.

 

 

Tomorrow – why facilities for the disabled are being questioned at BBC Cymru Wales’ new multi-million pound headquarters in Cardiff.

Phil’s memories of his extraordinary 36-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! 

You know you want it…

If you need something to keep the children entertained during these uncertain times (in Welsh) try Ffwlbart Ffred about the amusing stories of Ffred and his pet.