Archive for June 12, 2019

Blue Murder in Glasgow

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , , , on June 12, 2019 by telescoper

We have our final meeting of the Examination Board in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University tomorrow in the presence of External Examiner who is visiting for the purpose.

For some reason thinking about this impending event reminded me of a strange encounter I had many years ago when I worked at Nottingham University and had almost forgotten about. Perhaps it’s just because it was the same time of year. Anyway, while I remember it I thought I might as well write about it here.

One day in June 2003, when I got home to my house in Beeston after work, I found that a card had been put through my letterbox. It was from Nottingham CID and bore the name of a Detective Sergeant followed by `Vice Squad’. I forget his actual name. Apparently the Officer concerned had called when I wasn’t in and left the note asking me to call back. I was a bit perturbed that it was apparently to do with something under the remit of the Vice Squad but it didn’t give any details except for a telephone number. Anyway, being a cooperative person, I phoned the number and a few days later the policeman came to my house to interview me.

It turned out to have nothing to do with the Vice Squad nor even anything to do with Nottingham. It was to do with an incident in Glasgow that had happened almost a year previously (in 2002): the policeman who interviewed me just happened to be available to run this particular errand on behalf of the Glasgow CID.

The police had traced me because I had paid a bill in a curry house in the Byres Road area of Glasgow’s West End with my credit card. I should explain that the reason I was having a meal in Glasgow that night was that at that time I was External Examiner for the undergraduate courses in Astronomy at the University of Glasgow, a task that involved staying two nights in a B&B near the University. In fact when I spoke to the Police Officer I was about to go to Glasgow again for the same purpose.

I was asked to recall my movements for the evening concerned (24th June 2002). It was almost a year previously and I couldn’t help much, but I did remember that I (along with some companions from the Department) tried to get into the curry house earlier in the evening, but it was very busy so we adjourned to a pub for a pint or two before returning and getting a table. A helpful comment below reminded me that the establishment concerned was  Ashoka in Ashton Lane, in the West End of Glasgow.

 

I could remember only two things really. One was that it was a warm sunny evening and there were lots of people outside drinking in the sunshine. The other that it was getting dark when we left Ashoka after the meal, which at that time of year would make it rather late. The Officer pointed out that my credit card had been charged after 11pm, which fits with that recollection. I had paid for my meal with the intention of claiming the cost on expenses. The food was excellent, by the way.

`Can you describe the other people in the restaurant when you were there?’ he asked me. I could barely remember who was at my table, never mind any strangers, and couldn’t think of anything useful to say at all except that it was very busy.

`What’s this all about?’, I asked the Officer.

It was then revealed to me that somebody had been murdered that night, just around the corner from where I was staying. Actually he had been left for dead in the driveway of his house with serious head injuries received in the early hours of the following morning, and died a few days later. The police strongly suspected he had eaten in the same restaurant we were in, possibly with the person or persons who killed him. The Officer showed me a picture of the victim but it didn’t ring any bells.

Because of the time that had elapsed I wasn’t able to help very much at all, though to be honest I doubt I would have been able to help if I’d been asked the day after the event. I just wasn’t paying much attention, and there wasn’t a row or anything that I might have noticed.

And that was that. Interview over. I signed a witness statement and the Officer left.  I never heard any more about it.  It was obviously a cold case then – otherwise the Police  wouldn’t have been following such tenuous leads – and it’s an even colder case now. I believe the case was featured on Crimewatch or some such, but without success.

The murder (still unsolved) was of a man called Alex Blue. According to Wikipedia:

A businessman from the city’s west end, Blue was found outside his home with head injuries. He died two days later. Blue ran a taxi business with an annual turnover of £7m. One theory is that he was the victim of a house buying scam. He told friends he was in the process of buying a new house and planned to view it the day after he was attacked. It was later discovered the home had never been on the market. Although nobody has been charged with the murder, Blue’s mother and brother are convinced they know who murdered him. His brother said: “I know who was behind this but they got someone else to carry out their dirty work for them.”

It’s very unlikely now that whoever killed him will ever be brought to justice.

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Investigating Sexual Harassment in Universities

Posted in Education with tags , on June 12, 2019 by telescoper

This morning I came across a piece in the Guardian about a report from the UK Office for Students about hate crime and sexual harassment in Universities.

One of the recommendations of the report is that that Universities should hire specialist staff to investigate sexual harassment.

I’ve thought a lot about this issue since I blogged about the Bode versus Mundell case a few years ago (here and here). I hope we can all agree that we need to strive to create working environments wherein harassment and bullying simply do not happen, but sadly they do happen and until that changes we need to find ways of dealing with the perpetrators fairly but firmly and promptly.

In another post I made two suggestions.

The first was that organizations of a sufficient size to bear the cost should have independent misconduct investigators rather than relying on staff from the same workplace. This role could even be fulfilled by someone from a different organization altogether. Universities, for example, could set up a shared resource to deal with this kind of thing. I’ve now come to the conclusion that such investigators should not be employees of the university in question, as they would come under pressure to hush things up – which clearly happens now. It seems to me that far too many institutions prioritize limiting reputational damage over doing the right thing for their staff and students.

Having independent investigators would avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest but, perhaps more importantly, a dedicated investigator could carry out the work much more quickly than a senior academic who is busy with many other things and who would probably have had only cursory training.

The other suggestion I made is that confidentiality agreements covering related disciplinary matters should become void if an employee leaves the institution, whether that is as a result of dismissal or because they leave before investigations are completed. That would put an end to the game of “pass the harasser”.

I am not saying that these will solve the problem completely. To mind they are necessary but not sufficient. Any further suggestions through the comments box are welcome.