Leaked motion of censure of SU President deleted after libel accusation

By Jack Parker, Toby Donegan-Cross, and

A leaked copy of a potential motion of censure in Durham Students’ Union President was published on social media, only to be removed hours later following a letter of libel accusation from the SU.

The motion, part of which had been leaked anonymously on the Durfess Facebook page, detailed at least 19 clauses arguing for the removal of the SU President from office. These claims were unsubstantiated by further evidence in the motion or its appendices.

Multiple sources close to Palatinate indicate that the motion had been drafted by a member of the SU Assembly who are themselves looking to run as SU President for the next academic year. 

However, around 9 hours after the screenshots of the motion appeared, the post was removed from Facebook, per the request of a letter sent to Durfess by the Students’ Union. Durfess published a partially-redacted version of the SU’s letter on their page. 

The Students’ Union requested the post was removed on the basis that the post was defamatory

The Students’ Union requested the post was removed on the basis that it was defamatory. The letter defines defamation as including “statements that claim the plaintiff [the individual bringing the lawsuit] […] is incompetent in his job, trade, or profession.” 

The letter argues the Durfess post “clearly has the potential to have serious impacts for an individual’s employment, reputation and future.”

Palatinate understands the motion of censure in its current form has since been withdrawn, and will not be tabled as planned at the upcoming SU Assembly on 6th February.

The lack of substantive evidence provided by the motion is believed to be one of the main reasons for its withdrawal.

Palatinate has seen the motion of censure and a drafted version of a motion of no confidence in the SU President, which had been planned to be tabled if the motion of censure had passed by simple majority. 

Due to many of the included allegations being confirmed libelous by multiple parties, Palatinate is unable to publish any of the motion.

The motion of censure in its current form has since been withdrawn

In response to the Students’ Union letter threatening a libel claim, Durfess posted the following on their Facebook page: “Unlike the SU, we believe in transparency and accountability”, alongside the link to a petition for anyone who wishes to “express solidarity against the SU suing us [Durfess].”

Durfess told Palatinate that they want to say “a huge thank you for all the support Durham has expressed to us, [including] hundreds of signatories condemning the actions of the SU just a few hours after we published their letter.”

Over 1,000 people had signed the petition within 24 hours of being published online.

The day following the SU’s letter, Durfess changed their profile photo to cover their logo with a ‘Censored’ bar, adding: “We expect an apology for the spurious claims of libel made by the SU against Durfess.

“Until such apology is made, in protest to their attempts to shut down transparency of process in the interest of Durham Students we will hide the Durfess logo behind a CENSORED bar.”

The ‘Censored’ bar was then removed from the profile photo several hours later.

“We’ll continue to champion freedom of expression and protect the public interest”

Durfess, speaking to Palatinate

was elected unopposed as SU President in March 2019, on a turnout of 16.6%. The role is a salaried sabbatical year, and is held by recent graduates.

McIntosh successfully ran in December 2018 to become a delegate to the NUS Conference, on a slate alongside current Undergraduate Academic Officer, -Audini.

Palatinate was informed over two weeks ago that a motion was being prepared. McIntosh did not respond to our initial request for comment on 19th January. Upon the leaking of the motion on social media, Palatinate again requested comment, but was again not provided with any.

“I am confident that I’m doing my job well”

Kate McIntosh, Durham Students’ Union President

Although McIntosh did not provide comment to Palatinate, she posted an Update from Kate article on the Students’ Union website within hours of the motion leak, entitled “Durham’s Problem with Respect.”

Her article makes no explicit mention of the leaked motion, but McIntosh writes: “I am confident that I’m doing my job well because I speak up about the things students care about to the best of my ability.”

She continues, denouncing an “ingrained culture that permits misogyny, harassment and disrespect,” while also acknowledging that “we also have thousands of people who want to change that.”

“Undoubtedly, the harassment and intimidation I’ve faced is gendered. No one calls a man ‘manipulative’, or takes notes of the exact date and time a man has an original thought, so that they can be called out later. Let me be clear: this is misogyny.”

“Let me be clear: this is misogyny.”

Kate McIntosh, Durham Students’ Union President

 “I’m just the next in a line of women student leaders called bossy, manipulative, overly opinionated or ‘unsavoury’.” To clarify, ‘unsavoury’ was a term used by the presenter of the motion of no confidence to describe McIntosh’s personality.

McIntosh claims that there have been “weeks of rumours, misinformation, ‘secret’ meetings, outright denials from people in positions of responsibility that they were behaving in underhand ways, Palatinate leaks, Durfess posts, WhatsApp groups. Vicious rumours behind closed doors.”

Palatinate was not involved in the drafting, distribution or posting of the proposed motion.

Image from Durham Students’ Union

2 thoughts on “Leaked motion of censure of SU President deleted after libel accusation

  • This chilling of free speech by the SU is outrageous, not least because any libel claim looks very weak indeed.

    The SU’s letter wrongly said that libel is actionable per se — it isn’t because of s.1(1) Defamation Act 2013 (post the Supreme Court in Lachaux). The nature of the words is not sufficient in the current circumstances to draw an inference that serious harm has been caused, so McIntosh would have to show evidence of this harm manifesting. I suspect she would have problems. Further, difficult to imagine a defence of honest opinion/s.4 Public Interest would not apply.

    Palatinate ought to challenge this and publish – get proper specialist pre-publication advice from a barrister or solicitor and hold the SU to account.

    Reply
  • “No one calls a man ‘manipulative’” my arse.
    I know many manipulative men and definitely call them such.
    Don’t undermine that word. Their are many horrible controlling and coercive people in this world, men and women, and there are many more victims of them.

    Reply

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