A lecturer and his wife have been sacked by a university after being accused of speaking to journalists.
The move comes amid a widespread public sector crackdown on unauthorised contact with the media.
The University and College Union says that Bolton University lecturer Damien Markey and his wife Jennifer, an administrator at the university, were sacked for “allegedly leaking information to the press about vice chancellor George Holmes”.
The pair deny that they were the source of stories which appeared in the Daily Mail, The Times and Times Higher Education.
Press Gazette reported last year on new MOD rules which forbid any member of the armed forces from speaking to a journalist without the permission of a press officer.
And earlier this month the Government brought in a new rule which meant civil servants need the permission of a minister before they can speak to a journalist.
According to the UCU, Markey was summarily sacked on Friday when he was “accused of making malicious statements about colleagues, leaking information to the press aimed at damaging the university, and bringing the university into disrepute”.
He was said to have been overheard having a mobile phone conversation about “boats” and “lakes”, the UCU said, and it was alleged he had leaked a story which appeared in The Times and Times Higher Education reporting that Bolton University pays for its staff to stay in a luxury hotel overlooking lake Windermere where the vice chancellor keeps his boat.
The Times reported that 400 staff were to make the trip to the hotel in order to hear a presentation from the vice chancellor, at a total cost of £100,000.
Last month the Daily Mail reported that Professr Holmes, who is paid £200,000 a year, was given a two-year bridging loan of £960,000 by the university to buy a house.
It has been noted that this information is available in published accounts.
The UCU believes Markey may also have been sacked because of his union activities.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "These sackings are completely unjustified and quite staggering. There was no investigation and the whole sorry episode has ridden roughshod over the university's own procedures.
"In our view what Bolton has done is unlawful and represents trade union victimisation and they can expect to face the full force of the national union. We will be appealing these decisions as well as instructing our lawyers. At the moment we are trying to calm down other staff members who are understandably angry and concerned by the university's behaviour.
"Nobody likes looking a bit silly in public, but to start axing staff without evidence is the response of a desperate despot, not a university vice-chancellor."
The university said in a statement: "The university is comfortable that procedures have been followed and as yet no appeal has been lodged.
"The process is not connected with a staff member being a trade union official. The university does not comment on the merits of individual cases."
Jennifer Markey is a member of Unison,
The union’s North West organiser Kevan Nelson said: "The university has treated Jenny very unfairly and they have not followed the normal procedure. We will be supporting Jenny through the appeal process.
"We are alarmed that the university has taken this arbitrary and vindictive decision and we will be challenging this by all available means, including legal action."
If the pair have been sacked for speaking the press, this could be a breach of their Article 10 right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act.
This states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
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