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Nominet chair rebuts “skewed and inaccurate” whistleblower claims

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2012, 13:11:05 (UTC), Domain Registries

Nominet chair Baroness Rennie Fritchie has apologized for “embarrassment” caused by leaked emails that suggested Nominet and UK officials tried to avoid freedom of information laws.

But she has rebutted allegations that Nominet executives conspired to orchestrate a government takeover of the .uk namespace during a fractious board dispute back in 2008.

In a statement to Nominet members today, Fritchie said she has conducted a “fact-finding review” of the allegations and had “concluded that Nominet did not manufacture Government concern.”

As we reported a month ago, former policy director Emily Taylor made a number of claims about Nominet’s actions in 2008, when executives perceived a threat to control of the board by certain vocal domainers.

In order to ensure a friendlier board, Nominet approached the UK government for help, according to Taylor.

This led to an independent review, a restructuring of Nominet’s board, and powers for the government to take over the running of .uk being included in the Digital Economy Act of 2010.

Nominet has maintained, and Fritchie now says she has confirmed, that the concerns originated with the government, BT and the Confederation of British Industry, and not the other way around.

Fritchie wrote:

we have been extremely disappointed to see that correspondence from a troubled time in Nominet’s history has led to a skewed and inaccurate interpretation of events.

Having personally considered all available evidence, I have concluded that Nominet did not manufacture Government concern. There were longstanding issues, and the failure to win support for the proposed improvements in our governance at the AGM in 2008 was the catalyst that put Nominet’s problems firmly in the spotlight.

I have also been reassured that the concerns raised by CBI and BT representatives immediately following the 2008 AGM were not concocted by Nominet.

It also emerged last month that UK government officials and Nominet executives had been communicating via private email accounts, apparently in order to avoid Freedom of Information Act requirements.

One Nominet email from 2008 provided to DI signed off with “It feels wonderful to work free from fear of FOI !!”

It is for this email that Fritchie appears to be apologizing. She wrote:

We would however like to apologise for the embarrassment caused to members by an inappropriate suggestion, made in an email from a Nominet employee, that information could or should be deleted by officials to avoid an anticipated Freedom of Information request. This was a misguided attempt to ensure that open and honest conversations about how to secure the membership model of Nominet could take place, without being inappropriately influenced by those with vested interests. I would like to assure members that this was the result of troubled times, and is not at all representative of the way that Nominet operates.

The message was posted to Nominet’s members-only forum this afternoon.

The story may not be over yet, however.

Last month, Andrew Smith, Member of Parliament for Nominet’s home town of Oxford, told DI that he had referred Taylor’s freedom of information claims to Head of the Home Civil Service and the Chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

“These are very serious matters and it is important they are properly investigated,” he said.

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Comments (9)

  1. That’s hilarious, that she would write “Having personally considered all available evidence…..” Why not simply post all the available evidence and let the public decide, rather than simply saying, essentially “trust me”?

  2. Oscar O'Connor says:

    For Nominet to claim that the interpretation of recent events is “skewed and inaccurate” defies any logic… Remember this is the company that claimed that the tribunal had found in its favour when in fact it found for Emily Taylor on ALL counts. I suspect these folks wouldn’t recognise the truth if it jumped up and bit them on the nose!!! It is long past time for Nominet to admit their errors and learn from the experience instead of blaming the whistleblower for a mess entirely of their own making!

  3. Is the decision in the Emily Taylor matter matter? I’d been unable to find it online….

  4. I meant “Is the decision in the Emily Taylor matter PUBLIC” — sorry for the typo.

  5. Oscar O'Connor says:

    @george the decision is public and all of the relevant papers are therefore in the public domain, including a significant number which were not included in the recent BIS FOI response… The DailyTelegraph, the BBC and Channel 4 all covered it. Nominet are trying to sweep allegations of very serious wrongdoing under the carpet again and should not be allowed to get away with it.

  6. Thanks, Oscar. The original documents don’t seem to be posted online, though (just the coverage of them). If you have a link to them, please share.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      I called up the tribunal people at the time and was told that I could request the documents via mail, but only if I knew the names of both parties involved.

      If I wanted to do a search based on only one party I’d have to show up in person. The office is in a village about an hour’s train ride from London. Presumably there’s a “Beware of the Leopard” sign on the door too.

      As it happens, I have a copy somewhere anyway. If I can dig it up, I’ll post it.

  7. abmcell says:

    Here are the key findings from the hearing… I’ll try and get the rest, it is about somewhere…

    1. The claim of unfair dismissal contrary to Section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 succeeds.

    2. The claims of disability discrimination contrary to the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 succeed in relation to matters post dating February 2009.

    3. The claim of automatic unfair dismissal under Section 103A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 succeeds.

    4. The claim of detriment contrary to Section 47B of the Employment Rights Act 1996 succeeds.

    In the Tribunal’s view taking all those acts of discrimination into account and considering the evidence of the Claimant as the effect of the discrimination on her the award for injury to feelings in this case is at the bottom of the top band of Vento. In addition the Tribunal have considered, in accordance with the guidance set out by EAT in Commissioner of the Metropolis V Shaw what additional distress was caused to this particular Claimant in the particular circumstances of this case by the aggravating features in question. For a three month period of time the Respondent failed to inform the Claimant of the real reasons for her removal from the email lists and why she was not to be reinstated to them. She was not informed until December 2009 that the Respondent had trust and confidence issues with her and that this was the reason why she had been removed from the circulation lists. The Respondent’s behaviour was high handed and insulting to the Claimant. It was disingenuous. It directly affected the Claimant. It is clear from the wording of her letter of resignation the strength of reaction and upset to the Claimant resulting from the use of her disability as a pretext for removing her from the mailing lists when it was not the real reason. The deception was maintained over a three month period. That in itself is a significant factor. These acts of discrimination found by the Tribunal were serious and significant within the overall facts of this case. In the Tribunal’s view the appropriate award for injury to feelings in this case to include an element of aggravated damages is the sum of £25,000.

  8. abmcell says:

    Key wording from the last bit

    ” The deception was maintained over a three month period. That in itself is a significant factor. ”

    That is from the independent hearing…. worrying

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