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Nominet director quits over boardroom rift

Players square up in battle for .uk

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One of Nominet's four non-executive directors has resigned amid accusation and counter accusation of wrongdoing at the not-for-profit company that runs the .uk registry.

Angus Hanton, a self-described domainer*, was elected to the board in May 2007. In his resignation letter to fellow directors on Wednesday he said he was unhappy with how Nominet's top executives Lesley Cowley and Bob Gilbert are running the company.

Hanton told The Register: "It's not corporate governance that is the issue, it's corporate behaviour."

His resignation comes two weeks after Nominet announced an independent review of its corporate structure, citing a request from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) to justify its independence from Whitehall.

In the Nominet boardroom, Hanton has been most closely allied with Jim Davies, a solicitor elected in May 2008 who has frequently acted for domainers. On Monday this week Davies called on CEO Cowley and and Chairman Gilbert to face a vote of confidence from members. The Nominet executive counters that Davies has significant conflicts of interest and has refused to sign a declaration that he will act in the best interests of all Nominet members and the wider UK internet.

Today Hanton rejected suggestions from some observers, including other board members, that he was part of a deliberate attempt by domainers to destabilise Nominet.

"That's rubbish. There's no suggestion of a takeover. We just want it to be properly run," he said. "The reason I joined the board was to help with member engagement and be constructive."

Hanton alleges a lack of openness, over-reliance on lawyers and specific failures concerning staff discipline, although he declined to provide details.

In his resignation letter he wrote: "The company is meant to be controlled by, and answerable to, its membership as well as having duties to the wider community. My firm impression is that some other directors would like to eliminate the membership's control of the organisation and are not committed to the company's not-for-profit objectives."

In response to Jim Davies' resignation call a group of eight former non-executive directors wrote to Bob Gilbert on Tuesday in support of the current regime.

"We have seen no credible evidence of any wrongdoing by either of you [Cowley and Gilbert]. Further, change of executive leadership at this difficult time would be hugely damaging to the company and to its stakeholders."

The two other current non-executive directors, Gordon Dick and Sebastien Lahtinen, also backed the executives. "We believe that you have both worked tirelessly to further the development of Nominet and the .uk domain in the interests of our members and all stakeholders since your appointment and to suggest otherwise is palpable nonsense," they wrote.

Hanton said his resignation would not automatically trigger an emergency company meeting, but that larger Nominet members might insist on it. Nominet was not immediately available for comment today. ®

*Someone who buys up web addresses either to sell on at a profit or to provide ongoing revenue via parking pages that carry sponsored links.

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