Fallen idols are something of a trend in Bristol at the moment. But as controversy rages over the Colston statue toppling, another is brewing at the local university. For staff there are refusing to reveal the costs and identity of the top QC who led the investigation into the long-running David Miller saga.
The controversial academic was sacked by the University of Bristol last October, having been accused by the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism of ‘inciting hatred against Jewish students' for his comments about Israel, Zionism and the student Jewish Society.
The university launched the QC-led investigation into Professor Miller’s conduct in March 2021, with the lawyer producing an independent report which concluded that Miller's comments did not constitute unlawful speech. Bristol, however, has blocked Steerpike's Freedom of Information request on the identity of the QC and the cost of their investigation on the grounds of personal data and commercial interests.
It claimed that releasing this figure ‘would likely prejudice both the commercial interests of the university and the QC’ as ‘the university’s ability to negotiate favourable terms in the future would be hampered if the requested information entered the public domain.’
It added that ‘disclosure of the amount paid to the QC would also prejudice the commercial interests of the QC as the information could be used by competitors to undercut their chargeable rates. If the QC’s commercial interests were prejudiced this in turn would impact the University’s ability to secure value for money with the QC in the future.’
Jewish students past and present at the university have repeatedly criticised the way in which Bristol have handled concerns about Professor Miller’s conduct. Recent graduate Sabrina Miller, who clashed with Professor Miller (no relation) throughout her studies, criticised the university’s refusal to release any further information about the investigation.
She told Mr S: ‘The lack of transparency throughout the David Miller investigation has been incredibly concerning. If Bristol University hopes to rebuild trust with the Jewish student community it should be more open and honest about proceedings.'
A spokesman for the University of Bristol told Steerpike: ‘From the outset, we have explained that we cannot discuss the investigation into the comments made by Professor David Miller as it would jeopardise the integrity and rigour of what is a confidential process.
'This includes the identity of the QC and the amount they were paid for their work. We fully appreciate the public interest in this matter, however David Miller is appealing the decision and therefore we do not intend to make any further comment at this time.'
Somehow Mr S suspects this won't be the end of it...