Anti-terror whistleblower suspended by Nottingham University


Anti-terror whistleblower suspended by Nottingham University

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Written by: Rizwaan Sabir


Rizwaan Sabir, who was arrested in 2008 as a suspected terrorist whilst conducting postgraduate research at the University of Nottingham, gives his first public reaction on the recent suspension of Dr Rod Thornton.

It has now been over three years since my friend, Hicham Yezza and I were arrested for allegedly being involved in the ‘commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism’.

Until recently I always blamed the police for what happened. That was until Dr Rod Thornton – my former PhD supervisor, a decorated soldier (not your usual rabble-rousing ‘lefty’) produced a whistleblowing research paper asserting that senior members at the University of Nottingham played a central role in our arrest and subsequent treatment. Dr Thornton’s research indicates that the University of Nottingham played a central role in our treatment during our time in custody and post-release.

In his research paper – ‘Radicalisation at universities or radicalization by universities?: How a student’s use of a library book became a “major Islamist plot”‘ – Dr Thornton alleges that serious misconduct, and even illegal acts, were carried out by management. He argues that if the university had behaved diligently and followed governmental guidance when they found three academic texts on Hicham Yezza’s computer, all of which were available from the university’s own library, the police would never have been called in and the Home Office would not be disseminating literature that ‘farcically’ referred to our arrest as a ‘major Islamist plot’.

For arguing these points publicly (backed up with internal communications obtained under the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts), after exhausting all internal avenues of complaint, Dr Thornton was suspended. He is accused of ‘defamation’, but the University has released no evidence rebutting his allegations.

Significant documentary evidence, including internal emails, have been marshalled behind Dr Thornton’s assertions. These should not be brushed aside and merit an independent investigation. His paper suggests that University management acted with little or no regard for internal statutes or external guidelines and that the tools of accountability do not appear to apply to them.

One of the most interesting aspects of the paper is how Dr Thornton describes moving from one bureaucratic conundrum to another in a bid to have his grievances against the conduct of the university addressed, but finds himself blocked at every turn. It should come as no surprise that he therefore finally decided to whistleblow in the way he did.

Some will undoubtedly accuse me of being biased in favour of Dr Thornton, which is not wholly untrue, possibly, because he has risked his career and good name in fighting to help me clear mine, but, that does not mean I believe all of his research is perfect or unquestionable.

As a PhD student myself, and someone who has been subjected to the most serious of allegations, I am the last person who will rush to make a judgement without examining all the facts and all the evidence, and I believe all the evidence has yet to come out.

The evidence that was released, and is cited by Dr Thornton, appears compelling. But, I nor Dr Thornton are judges, which is why an independent public inquiry is the best avenue for addressing the very serious allegations he makes.

The university claims that it behaved ‘ethically, transparently and in a fair manner’ when it called the police in 2008 and in our subsequent treatment. It accuses Dr Thornton of bringing the university into disrepute. To exonerate its good name and its reputation, it should fully support a public inquiry. If it truly supports academic freedom, that is the least it can do.

Related links

Support the Whistleblower At Nottingham

Read an IRR News story: ‘The case of Hicham Yezza’

Read an IRR News story: ‘The new McCarthyism’


Rizwaan Sabir is a doctoral candidate in the School of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Strathclyde, where he is researching 'Understanding and Communicating Islam in official discourse and policy in Scotland and the UK.


The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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