A scurrilous dirty tricks campaign revealed exclusively by us has intensified at a controversial Welsh university where an investigation has been launched into a questionable multi-million pound land deal and the Vice-Chancellor (VC) Richard Davies was unprecedentedly suspended, but the regular anonymous message sent to bewildered staff now warns of being ‘blocked’ and comes from another email address, The Eye can disclose.
The latest ‘Your friend’ email delivered to staff at contentious Swansea University as well as our journalists says: “Academic freedom is dead. The last bastion has fallen. Your new regime, with call centre efficiency, DVLA morale and DWP compassion is
taking shape”. The new message is delivered from an ‘Athena Parthenos’ email address when before they were entitled ‘Ivs Titia’, but it comes as before from ‘Your friend’.
He or she is clearly a supporter of one of the senior executives who, we have been told, may have been an early front runner to take over the top job permanently, the Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC) at Swansea University, Hilary Lappin-Scott. The email includes an earlier message that ‘hopefully’ she will lead the institution to an “era of gold and honey” adding “first she must defeat the old men. It will take more than one of her magnificent tweets to expose their behaviour”.
In the past ‘Your friend’ has included internal messages from key players in the growing crisis, which are dated a year ago, saying that a former registrar at the headline-grabbing institution had been ‘thrown to the wolves’. The internal messages also named a central figure in the huge £200 million regeneration scheme under investigation, called the Delta Lakes (Llanelli Wellness Village) City Deal which was being orchestrated with leading officials at Swansea University’s School of Management – Franz Dickmann of Sterling Health Security Holdings. The scheme at Llanelli which is central to the investigation has been described by its backers as the “largest ever regeneration project in South West Wales”.
It had laudable aims – to improve the health and wellbeing of people across the area, as well as creating 2,000 high-quality jobs and boosting the economy by £467m over 15 years, but it has been beset by controversy from the start. Swansea University had combined with Sterling Health to raise an enormous amount of money for the project. Sterling Health is registered in London, and its directors include Mr Dickmann, as well as the former leader of Carmarthenshire County Council Meryl Gravell.
The Eye were the first to break the news that the unparalleled suspension of Professor Davies at Swansea as well as the Dean of his School of Management Marc Clement, and two others of his senior officials, and the remarkable investigation launched at the same time, was linked to the Wellness village project. Now it appears that underhand tactics are being used as top officials jockey for position to take over and distance themselves from what has happened.
We have shown how earlier ‘your friend’ has sent disturbing emails, in which he or she has drawn attention to mainstream media coverage of the crisis by the Western Mail, as well as The BBC, and included links, before stating: “It would appear that decisions with such far reaching consequences for Swansea University’s future as well as the well being and reputation of individuals who have played a critical part in ensuring your University’s future has been dealt with by a Kangaroo Court of sorts…”. Another ‘friend’ email to academics at the scandal-hit university, read: “This is clearly a David and Goliath situation.… one of my friends in a Welsh law firm estimated that the fees to the London law firm would have already exceeded GBP 100,000.”.
‘Your friend’ obviously supports Professor Davies as well as his PVC – calling for his reinstatement, and stressing that an internal ‘vote’ should be held to back him, saying: “P.S.: I remind you of the plea for Professor Richard B Davies’ reinstatement in time for the Graduation Ceremony – do not forget to vote (it is completely anonymous!)”. Our contacts at the university have told us that controversial Professor Lappin-Scott was thought to be a favourite to replace Professor Davies permanently even though it appeared many staff did not want her, but it is understood she may not in fact have been shortlisted for interview. Yet ‘Your friend’ said in an earlier email: “… the wonderful work of Professor Hillary (sic) Lappin-Scott and its global recognition (has) been negated by (recent) events”(see story on The Eye soon).
But neither Swansea University nor its School of Management have been strangers to controversy in the past. We have exposed Steve Chan, a so-called academic who had been jailed for many years in the USA after a massive fraud yet was employed by Swansea University, before moving on to another company, and went to live with his mother in Poughkeepsie, New York.
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.
The university has, though, been reluctant to give information about him or his employment. We lodged a series of questions with Swansea through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, but the information was refused on the grounds the queries were “vexatious”. Four of the questions we 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 scandalous school itself has also made the news for all the wrong reasons. 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”.
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.
In the ‘grievance’ letter after his suspension, Professor Davies says the project under investigation takes up 75 per cent of the “column centimetres” in the letter he received with the rest detailing allegations that he “failed to assure appropriate due diligence, governance and systems of control around major projects and commercial activities of the university”.
Academics have reacted to us by pouring scorn on some of his comments which have been reported in the mainstream media. We have received observations such as “this is TV police drama stuff”.
Among Professor Davies’ statements in the ‘grievance’ letter which was published, include the line that after the meeting at which he was suspended, he was followed by one senior executive and another member of the University Council to his room, “(One) acted as the ‘soft cop’ and (the other member of the council) as the ‘tough cop’”.
The BBC reported that: “Swansea University’s suspended vice-chancellor says he has been ‘left out to dry,’ in a letter of grievance.”
Meanwhile it has also now emerged the chair of the governing body at the university, Sir Roger Jones (one of the recipients of the latest email), has resigned from his senior role with a company where Professor Clement was a co-director, although a spokeswoman at the institution stressed that this was “wholly unconnected” with the major investigation which is underway.
With all this controversy swirling around in the background, Swansea University staff have told us they are amazed by the university’s ranking in recent tables, and that Professor Davies offers ‘good value for money’.
But apart from attacking the mainstream media’s reporting of the crisis, 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 made. It 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.”
An article from 2005 in Private Eye gives a flavour of Professor Davies’ reported 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″.
Details of ‘old mates’ and ‘old men’ in the latest scurrilous email come as new information of the underhand tactics at contentious Swansea University emerge all the time, and The Eye report it!
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his 35-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), will soon be released in a major new book ‘A Good Story’.