(Featured image: A cumulative graph of the number of Lancaster University staff subject to confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements since 2015.)

The Bailrigg bullying scandal has reached crisis point as culpable senior managers scramble to cover-up their own failures. As Lancaster University attempts to gag trade unionists from speaking about workplace bullying, Spineless can exclusively reveal that almost 30 former staff have been silenced by confidentiality clauses in the last five years.

Spineless has previously reported that in response to a Freedom of Information request, the University claimed that no former staff have been subject to gagging clauses. We had seen evidence to indicate that this was false, so we requested an Internal Review of their response.

The Internal Review has revealed that since 2015, Lancaster University has included 29 confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements with outgoing staff. The figures reveal an increasing rate of the University's use of such clauses, giving the impression of an escalating situation.

The figures released cover the period from 1st January 2015 to 5th January 2020, and reveal that a settlement involving a confidentiality clause was agreed in the just the first five days of this calendar year. We don't know how many such settlements have been made since.

In March 2019, the Business Minister spoke out against 'the misuse of these agreements to silence victims, and there is increasing evidence that this is becoming more widespread.' In July 2019, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published a response to their consultation into the use of confidentiality, aka gagging, clauses in the employment context. They said, ‘a number of cases have come to light where employers have used confidentiality clauses to prevent victims of workplace harassment or discrimination from speaking out.’

As opposed to dealing with the bullies, Lancaster University’s response to the crisis has been to intimidate those speaking out about it. Paul Boustead, the Director of HR and Organisational Development, has been accused of ‘creepy’ behaviour after following and direct messaging UCU members on Twitter last week, who were speaking out about bullying.

Lancaster University staff may be able to make disclosures that are in the public interest, even when restricted by gagging clauses, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. This act allows individuals to make disclosures of information where a crime may have been committed, where a person has failed to comply with a legal obligation, where a miscarriage of justice has occurred, where the health or safety of an individual has been endangered, or where the environment has been damaged.

As always, Spineless welcomes tip-offs and leaks. We are contactable on spinelesslancs@protonmail.com.