An astonishing dirty tricks campaign revealed exclusively by The Eye has increased at a controversial Welsh university where an extraordinary investigation was launched into a questionable multi-million pound land deal and the Vice-Chancellor (VC) Richard Davies has been unprecedentedly suspended.
Now we can disclose that academics at Swansea University have been sent another anonymous email from ‘Your friend’, and he or she includes internal messages from key players in the growing crisis being investigated which are dated a year ago, saying that a former registrar at the contentious institution had been ‘thrown to the wolves’.
The internal messages that have been included, also name a central figure in the huge £200 million regeneration scheme called the Delta Lakes (Llanelli Wellness Village) City Deal being orchestrated with leading officials at Swansea University’s School of Management, and which is now under investigation – Franz Dickmann of Sterling Health Security Holdings.
The scheme at Llanelli was described by its backers as the “largest ever regeneration project in South West Wales”, and 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.
Journalists on The Eye were the first to break the news that the unparalleled suspension of Professor Davies at Swansea as well as three other of his senior officials, including the Dean of his School of Management Marc Clement, 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.
This time the communication from ‘Your friend’, again using an ‘Ivstitia’ email address, states:
Yesterday we saw some damaging allegations against your former
Registrar, Raymond Ciborowski (who has been thrown) to the
wolves. For those interested in the truth, the attached extensive email
exchange of January 2018 (one year ago) paints a very different
picture. What is the real agenda?
‘Your friend’ includes an internal message from Mr Ciborowski to Mr Dickmann dated a year ago which discusses the Wellness village, where he says: “The project continues to be something that I hope will become a reality”.
We have shown how in the past ‘your friend’ 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 wellbeing 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…”. An earlier ‘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’ clearly supports Professor Davies – 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!)”.
We have also been told that the controversial Pro-Vice Chancellor (PVC) Hilary Lappin-Scott (HLS) is a front runner to replace Professor Davies permanently even though it appears many staff do not want her. One of the ‘Your friend’ emails states: “… the wonderful work of Professor Hillary (sic) Lappin-Scott and its global recognition (has) been negated by (recent) events”
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 lines 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’”.
He goes on to say: “When in my room, both put pressure on me to agree to a deal. I resisted (a deal) resolutely and made it clear that the accusations were without substance and that I would fight to clear my name.”
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, 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 unfolding drama, 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″.
Our journalists can also keep you informed of the background to this remarkable series of episodes at Swansea University.
Also on The Eye – our Editor reveals the story of how a miscarriage of justice was uncovered and three South Wales men accused of murder were released from jail
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