Category Archives: BristolBloggerGate

All about WordPress.com censoring blogs shining a light on shady deals at universities

BristolBloggerGate: Search engine query of the day: Lady Sheila Newby’s salary

What’s that I spy?

Three views from a Google search on “lady newby’s salary at university of liv“?

Alas, I do not know how much Lady Sheila Newby, wife of University of Liverpool vice-chancellor Sir Howard Newby, is paid. I fear that to even hazard a guess might earn this blog some gardening leave at the hand of WordPress.com’s finest brains in concert with Liverpool Uni’s legal eagle Kevan Ryan.

But I am sure that there are readers out there who might be able to furnish us with the answer to this intriguing question, and perhaps even to flesh out the detail. If you can help, please do get in touch, or leave a comment here.

BristolBloggerGate: Newby’s numbers 15 and a half MILLION out!

The salad days of research funding riches have failed to materialise at the University of Liverpool – whose estimable vice chancellor Sir Howard Newby (formerly of this parish whilst cost-cutting at the University of the West of England) may be familiar to readers due to his involvement in the silencing of critical blogs – where a deficit of rising £14 million has emerged.

As the Times Higher Education puts it:

The University of Liverpool was more than £15 million out in its financial forecasts for the past academic year, accounts reveal.

The university had expected to end the year to July 2009 with a surplus of £2.3 million. However, when the accounts were collated an overall deficit of £13.2 million emerged.

…Liverpool’s financial statements say most of the deficit was due to lower than budgeted research income.

Of course, heads must roll, so naturally Michael Yuille*, the director of finance on whose watch this occurred, has helpfully fallen on his sword – which should help insulate the capo di tutti capi from the fallout from this… for the time being, at least.

Though, as THE notes “about 200 staff, most of whom were in non-academic positions, took voluntary severance last year at a cost of £3.98 million.”

A spokesman for the University and College Union at Liverpool questioned whether senior staff pay may be partly responsible for the state of the university’s finances.

Some 112 members of staff earned more than £100,000 last year, up from 88 the year before, and the university paid senior staff £324,000 in compensation for loss of office.

As an avid bean counter himself, Sir Howard has continued to exercise the passion for trimming personnel at Liverpool which he first showed such flair for whilst running UWE, though clearly not at the highest reaches of the organisation. Perhaps someone knows of a management consultancy that might be able to help?

* Students will no doubt be ecstatic to learn that the number-troubled Mr Yuille appears to have scored a new job… At the Student Loans Company.

BristolBloggerGate: Craig’s list of libel lawyers who bottled it

By way of a follow up to the recent NewbyGate (né BristolBloggerGate) furore, I notice that former British ambassador-turned-anti-Establishment blogger and all-round troublemaker Craig Murray has posted something which may be of interest to anyone concerned about getting sued for libel

  • Number of letters received from lawyers threatening legal action 47
  • Number of lawyers involved: 11
  • Number of lawyers told to go ahead and sue or prosecute: 11
  • Number of suits/prosecutions brought: Nil
  • Number of apologies and retractions issued: Nil
  • Damages Paid: Nil
  • Number of falsehoods published: Nil

Who says it is not fun running a blog?

[Slightly edited for clarity]

Craig Murray, you might remember, was threatened by big hitter libel lawyers Schillings on behalf of hired killer/mercenary/’private military contractor’ Tim Spicer for writing a book which spilled the beans on all sorts of juicy things that many people would have preferred to have remained hidden from public view. Murray’s publisher was scared off, but he stuck to his guns and published it online himself anyway – and was not sued.

For those who were wondering, The Bristol Blogger has been hidden from public view by its author with a view to finding a more robust host than WordPress.com has proved. In the meantime TBB is acting as a guest blogger on Bristol 24/7.

Meanwhile, a crack team of bloggers and journalists is working hard to discover exactly why University of Liverpool legal eagle Kevan Ryan demanded that WordPress.com censor two-and-a-half year old blog posts about his boss Sir Howard Newby – watch this space!

The last word for now goes to Craig Murray again:

Britain’s notorious libel laws are designed to inculcate fear in those who would publish the truth. But, as with most situations in life, a lack of fear makes things much less fraught.

BristolBloggerGate: Why was Liverpool University so reticent in releasing details of Sir Howard Newby’s appointment?

The University of Liverpool might regret kicking off BristolBloggerGate, seeing how now every internet sleuth and their aunt is out looking for clues as to what is really going on.

For example, a search for Sir Howard Newby on What Do They Know? throws up an April 2009 request for the “report by the [Liverpool University] Joint Committee relating to the appointment of Professor Sir Howard Newby”.

The University’s ‘Freedom of Information Co-ordinator’ Lesley Jackson initially stonewalled, citing exemptions on the grounds of ‘prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs’ and commercial interest, but Julian Todd, who made the application, stood his ground and argued effectively that these exemptions did not apply. Two months after the initial request, Kevan Ryan – the director of legal services at Liverpool who appears to have been the one calling on WordPress.com to silence critical bloggers – finally responded by giving Mr Todd the document reproduced above.

Of course, this one page document does seem to fall short of what one might imagine a report on the selection of a vice-chancellor of a major university would look like.

Perhaps the pending WDTK request to the University of Liverpool asking for “information regarding all the legal advice and/or legal work the university has purchased from any provider between 1 January 2008 – date” might shed some light on this, and on the reasons behind BristolBloggerGate.

BristolBloggerGate: What would Jon Snow think of his old university trying to silence internet critics of Sir Howard Newby?

This BristolBloggerGate thing is rumbling on and on and on – it now appears that the party demanding that WordPress.com take down blog posts on the issue (scalps so far: The Bristol Blogger, EcoLogics and Sir Howard Newby Watch) is not former UWE vice chancellor Sir Howard Newby but instead his current employer the University of Liverpool!

I wonder what former Liverpool student and current Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow – who is also a patron of Media Defence Legal Initiative, which provides “legal support to journalists and media outlets who seek to protect their right to freedom of expression” – makes of all this…

BristolBloggerGate: Wot Private Eye said about Sir Howard Newby back in 2007…

So BristolBloggerGate is rumbling on, and I decided to check through my Private Eye collection, and lo! I turned up a copy from 2007 (no.1185, 25th May-7th June) which mentions then-University of the West of England vice-chancellor Sir Howard Newby in its ‘High Principals’ section. What’s interesting is that the suppressed posts on The Bristol Blogger and on EcoLogics cover much the same concerns, as any fule with the nous to try a cache search will be able to tell you.

So in the words of teh y00t, wagwan WordPress?

BristolBloggerGate: Backlash against WordPress censorship builds up head of steam over Sir Howard Newby takedowns

It doesn’t look like the attempt to censor posts on WordPress.com-hosted blogs relating to former UWE vice-chancellor Sir Howard Newby has had the desired effect – unless the desired effect was to rake up concerns of Sir Howard’s management style dating back nearly three years.

The EcoLogics blog is reporting on its own WP takedown notice, whilst The Bristol Blogger is back up and running, albeit with the supposedly ‘defamatory’ posts removed from public view.

Similar articles published outside of WordPress.com’s blogs are still up – such as the piece on DC’s Improbable Science from 2007 and titbits published in Private Eye and transcribed onto Facebook – so exactly what was the point of trying to strong-arm WP bloggers, and just what does WordPress think it’s doing?

BristolBloggerGate: It’s just a typical n00b mistake!

So, thanks to radio journalist Martin Jones and news website Bristol 24/7 we now know that the reason for WordPress’s fritzing of The Bristol Blogger today was due to pressure from ex-University of the West of England vice-chancellor Sir Howard Newby. It seems he didn’t like some reference or other made by TBB. The word ‘defamation’ seems to have been thrown around. TBB is back up now, but WordPress has said the offending references must be gone by daybreak (or something similar).

Still, it makes you wonder exactly what it was that earned the takedown…

Whilst the blog posts in question appear to have been taken down, they can still be viewed via caches. One post, dated 26th May 2007, mentions a “private sector training company” in which both Sir Howard and his wife Lady Sheila held an interest being brought in to work with UWE. Another, from 7th July 2007, reflects on Sir Howard’s departure from UWE for pastures new at Liverpool University and again refers to the Newbys’ involvement with private consultants hired to work at UWE.

Similar points have been raised elsewhere – including the WordPress-hosted blogs Sir Howard Newby Watch and EcoLogics. However, the former appears to have been suspended in the same way as TBB was, and the latter’s blog post about the Newby-connected consultancy going into administration now throws up a 404 error message, consistent with a blog post that has been deleted (such as the Newby posts on TBB deleted under pain of blog deletion). Again, all the missing material is accessible through a cache search. Bizarrely, a different blog post on EcoLogics goes into greater detail about the Newbys involvement in private consultancy at UWE (and Sir Howard’s management style and educational philosophy) than the mysteriously missing post. Additionally, an independently-hosted blog, DC’s Improbable Science, carries similar material but remains up and running.

Outside of the blogosphere, mention is made of all the salient points in reports by the likes of Private Eye, The Guardian, Times Higher Education and others. The THE story refers to a different “private consultancy used by UWE during Sir Howard’s leadership…used by Liverpool for ‘work associated with strategic planning'”.

So what exactly was the beef with The Bristol Blogger (and Sir Howard Newby Watch, and possibly EcoLogics)? Is there something in the scandal pipeline that someone, somewhere, is trying to preemptively draw attention away from?

BristolBloggerGate: WordPress suppresses words… But which ones and why?

For reasons that are as yet unclear, WordPress today attempted to silence one of our fair city’s most popular political websites, The Bristol Blogger. In place of the usual collection of local political ribaldry, scandalous gossip and five-star muckraking, filling TBB’s front page now is a stark notice:

This blog has been archived or suspended for a violation of our Terms of Service.

No reference is made to exactly what is supposed to have breached the ToS.

So just what was it that got WordPress’s knickers in a twist? The last story posted on TBB was about the pisspoor Tory twitter campaign #kerryout; so is it something to do with the less-than-ecstatic welcome extended to the Conservatives’ Bristol East candidate Adeela Shafi (aka ‘Web wonder Shafi’)?

That article has been rather usefully reposted to Bristol IndyMedia:

Election 2010: Tory wonderweb joy!

January 4, 2010 · 20 Comments

Just been reading Eugene Byrne’s political predictions for 2010 in Venue. A stonking good read mainly because the The Bristol Blogger is in it. Although another highlight is Helen Holland cracking a decentish joke while KRS will be on the naughty step for the forseeable.

Most of the article is general election predictions and observations. Dawn’s gonna hold Bristol South; Paul Smith might win Bristol West (ha, ha, ha!); Jacob Rees-Mogg is tosser etc. etc …

Unfortunately Eugene didn’t mention Bristol East where the – so far – invisible Tory candidate, the fragrant Ms Adeela Shafi of leafy Westbury-on-Trym in, er, Bristol West, has reinvented herself over Christmas as one of the country’s “most web-savvy politicians”!

And ‘Web wonder Shafi‘ – as we now have to call her – will have an anonymous pro-Tory internet campaign – featuring “cutting edge Tory bloggers” – kicking off in the Bristol East constituency today with the Twitter-friendly title #kerryout.

Despite the rather obvious fact – regardless of how many “cutting edge” Tory public schoolboy bloggers form a circle jerk – that Bristol’s political blogosphere doesn’t have the reach to turn over a 7,200 Labour majority in Bristol East – and lazy-arsed Tory horse Shafi will have to get off her backside and knock on doors to make an impact – this soppy little campaign has obviously rattled Kerry who is already issuing daft legal threats!

Now we find Channel 4 News are taking an interest …

Pull up a chair. The election’s underway folks and I’m off to design my ‘Election 2010′ logo …

Or perhaps it’s nothing to do with that at all – TBB has, after all, gnawed at the ankles of pretty much everyone who would like to see themself as either one of the great and/or the good of the city. Frothy-mouthed keyboard-puncher Bristol Dave suspects the work of the City Council’s legal eagles – crackpot little Hitlers (sorry, I mean ‘crack litigators’) that they are; if you have a theory, please do share.

Meanwhile, the Bristol Blogger themself has suggested that anybody interested in finding out why the blog’s been spiked should contact Paul Kim, who seems to be responsible for this sort of thing at Automattic, the company which runs WordPress.

ETA:

More coverage now up in the form of an editorial article on Bristol IndyMedia, plus a quickie on Anarchist 6[Zero]6. Bristol Dave has also fleshed out his theory that this is BCC-related in the comments below.