Former University of Portsmouth professor told ‘sorry’ by police after 20-year wait

THIS WEEK IN 1993: Nursery school for all three-year-olds

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A PROFESSOR says an apology from police has vindicated his 20-year fight for justice with a university.

Prof John Pickering says that in 1994 he was forced out of his job as deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth after he blew the whistle on issues over the then vice-chancellor’s expenses.

Professor John Pickering with his letter of apology from the police. Picture: Allan Hutchings (143189-213)

Professor John Pickering with his letter of apology from the police. Picture: Allan Hutchings (143189-213)

The National Audit Office was called in to investigate the university’s handling of irregularities by Neil Merritt (pictured) after he made claims for expensive flights on business trips which he cashed in for cheaper ones but still claimed for.

Mr Merritt left following a vote of no confidence by staff and was given a £52,000 payoff, but not before Mr Pickering was told his position was no longer needed and he was made redundant.

The university has always claimed this was unrelated to the allegations raised about Mr Merritt.

At the time Mr Pickering pushed Hampshire Constabulary to investigate the matter but they refused.

Neil Merritt MAYOAK0003220137

Neil Merritt MAYOAK0003220137

After 20 years of pursuing the case Mr Pickering, 74, from Rowlands Castle, has received an apology from the force.

In a letter sent by Det Insp Martin Chudley, acting on behalf of the Chief Constable Andy Marsh, he says: ‘It is evident from this material that offences of fraud in relation to expenses were committed at that time.

‘Furthermore it is apparent that additional offences of corruption were being alleged and that there was sufficient information for the police to have conducted a fuller investigation than appears to have occurred.’

It adds: ‘I am sorry that the actions of Hampshire Constabulary seem not to have reached the standard expected of them.’

Prof Pickering, who has not been able to find full-time work in academia since, now wants an apology from the university – but it has refused.

Prof Pickering said: ‘I feel vindicated for pursuing the police but hardly satisfied. I was fobbed off for years.

‘I feel angry the university has still not apologised, even though it was quite clear that what I was doing was in the public interest to protect public money.’

The case was followed closely by The News in the 1990s.

Mr Merritt’s secretary, Bonnie Tall, who alerted Prof Pickering to the scandal, was also forced out.

She later won a claim for constructive dismissal against the university. Prof Pickering was advised not to pursue the matter by his union.

In a statement the university said: ‘Professor Pickering left the employment of the university by voluntary agreement 20 years ago. The university considers the matter closed.’

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 – known as the whistleblowing act – did not come into force until 1999. The act protects workers who disclose information about malpractice at their workplace, or former workplace.