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Dr Rod Thornton has chosen to leave his position in the School of Politics and International Relations following a “mutual agreement” with the University. The lecturer was the source of controversy after he published an article criticising the University’s handling of the arrests of two students in May 2008. Masters student, Rizwaan Sabir, and staff member Hicham Yezza were arrested after Sabir downloaded and sent to Yezza ‘The Al Qaeda Training Manual’ for academic research purposes. Both men were held for 6 days before being released without charge.
Dr Thornton’s article argued that “untruth [was] piled on untruth until a point was reached where the Home Office itself farcically came to advertise the case as ‘a major Islamist plot’”. He was later suspended from his position at the University. In a statement, the University claimed that the article contained “baseless accusations” about members of staff.
In response to the suspension, a group of supporters formed ‘Support the Whistleblowers at Nottingham’ (SWAN) who notoriously published 200 items on the website Unileaks in what they believed to be evidence of Dr Thornton’s claims, as well as photographs seeming to show student protestors being secretly filmed by security at the University.
The situation attracted even more support after an open letter was sent to The Guardian, signed by over 60 academics from all over the world – including Noam Chomsky – expressing their concern over the treatment of a peer. They called for an “immediate reinstatement” as well as a “full and proper inquiry” into the claims of his paper.
In 2011, Sabir was paid £20,000 in compensation, stating that “the lack of university accountability at Nottingham [had] ruined [his] life”. Hicham Yezza, when writing for The Guardian called Dr Thornton’s suspension a “serious attack on academic freedom”.
In a joint statement, Dr Thornton and the University said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies and Dr Thornton apologised for any offence and distress he may have caused. The statement noted that Dr Thornton had no part in the “edited and incomplete material on the Scrib’d and Unileaks websites” but that this “had led to a serious misunderstanding of events at the University and of the motives of individuals who work there”.