Trinity Hall’s Master allowed Senior Tutor to investigate a sexual assault claim whilst he himself was being investigated

The Senior Tutor was in charge of investigating a case against a Trinity Hall student


CN: This article contains discussion of sexual assault which may be triggering.

An investigation by Tortoise has found that the Master of Trinity Hall , Revd Canon Dr Jeremy Morris, allowed the acting Senior Tutor of the college to investigate a sexual assault case within college whilst he himself was under investigation for sexual assault.

Tortoise alleges that on the 6th May 2018, the Master was approached by a student (known as John for confidentiality purposes), who claimed that he had accepted a drink in the Senior Tutor's room, and woke up to find himself being sexually assaulted. The Senior Tutor vehemently denies this allegation, saying that John's account is inconsistent and his motivations malicious. He attended a voluntary interview with the police and was never arrested or charged. No further action took place.

The Senior Tutor was allowed to continue heading up an investigation into sexual assault within college until July, when it concluded with a hearing; he was also allowed to continue his term as acting Senior Tutor, the head of welfare in the college, until August, when he stood down as planned. Tortoise claim he alleges he was unaware of the allegations that were made for five months, whilst the Master allowed him to continue to teach and retain his post as the person to whom students would come with welfare concerns.

According to the Senior Tutor's account, as soon as he was notified about the allegations, he stepped back from supervisions, and reorganised his teaching from early October until late November.

However, according to Tortoise, there are "records suggesting he taught at least five undergraduates in supervisions that term", and the site has identified undergraduates who were taught by him in late October and November.

The University itself was not made aware of the allegations, except through "hypothetical conversations", until October, when the Senior Tutor was interviewed by police.

The Master's conduct has come under intense scrutiny, with one vice-chancellor telling Tortoise that the normal pattern of behaviour with cases such as the Senior Tutor's would be to put them immediately “on research leave…you deal with the safeguarding stuff by getting them out of the place, get the police process underway”.

There have been calls for the Master to resign. The Master has since suspended his Twitter account.

Tortoise's investigation looked into the Senior Tutor's investigation into a student known as D, who was accused of sexual assault by three women. Tortoise reported the Senior Tutor was thought to have a close relationship with D – D had asked to have him as his tutor, and they were both members of a small, secret dining club. The Senior Tutor's role as head of the investigation was to ensure fair procedure; his role as Senior Tutor was to safeguard all involved. In the final hearing, he was called on by D as a witness, and the outcome of the investigation was that the panel "cannot, on the balance of probabilities, conclude whether these acts happened”.

Trinity Hall has already been at the centre of a national news scandal with regards to the sexual misconduct of former Fellow Peter Hutchinson, who resigned in 2019 after allegations of sexual assault came to light, and who today it was found had written erotic fiction partially based on students. These cases raise important issues about the role of the college system in dealing with internal complaints: does it really fulfil its pastoral responsibilities, or is it vulnerable to abuses of power?

The university service Breaking the Silence includes advice on support and reporting for victims of sexual harassment, and this is the direct link for its anonymous reporting .

A joint statement from Trinity Hall and the Master said:“We understand that any allegations of this kind at our College will be a matter of deep concern to everyone in our community, and we take them extremely seriously.

“There is no place for misconduct or inappropriate behaviour of any kind at Trinity Hall, and we are highly aware how important it is to deal with any issues which may arise in a clear and appropriate manner. The safety and welfare of students and staff at the College is a priority for us, and a natural expectation of anyone who comes to study and work here.

“As part of living up to these requirements – alongside the University of Cambridge and its ‘Breaking The Silence’ campaign – we are committed to a zero tolerance policy, providing the support and protection all our College members need in order to go about their daily work. Our students, staff and alumni need not only to be informed about our complaints policies, and where to seek help at difficult times, but also to trust the College’s procedures to handle any complaints fairly and correctly.

“In doing so, we recognise that speaking up and reporting concerns must be extremely difficult and may have a significant emotional impact on individuals. We will do everything we can to ensure people raising such issues feel safe and supported. The College has its own mental health team, and significant pastoral and tutorial support, in addition to the provision made by the University of Cambridge for all its students and staff.

“The College will always seek to address any complaints it receives and to determine the most appropriate procedure under which to consider them, in conjunction, importantly, with the complainant’s own wishes. We have substantially revised our processes in the last two years, in the light both of experience and of changing sector guidance on the handling of complaints of harassment and misconduct. In addition to the College’s own procedures, this may include referring the matter to the University of Cambridge’s Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA). It should be recognised that, in line with sector guidance, any criminal process must take priority.

“For reasons of duty of care and confidentiality, we are unable to comment specifically about individual cases, even in a number of circumstances where the information is incorrect, misleading or requires a fuller detailed explanation. Nonetheless, we understand that any complaints, which are often highly sensitive and complex, require the highest possible standards in terms of explaining the processes and potential outcomes, in addition to clear and consistent communications with all concerned, and alongside providing pastoral or other appropriate support. Like many other Higher Education institutions which are facing similar issues, we are therefore obliged to ensure that we are constantly reviewing our processes in the light of our experience.

“For this reason, as outlined in November 2019, the Governing Body of the College has taken a decision to mount two procedural Reviews in 2020: one of Governance, to consider any improvements to the executive processes of the College, including matters of transparency and representation; and one of Disciplinary, Harassment and other associated processes to consider any deficiencies in its procedures and to give reassurance to students, staff and alumni that any specific claims or complaints we receive are thoroughly and carefully handled, in accordance with best practice. To ensure these Reviews are as robust and transparent as possible, the College will be engaging independent external experts. We will be making an announcement about the composition of the two Reviews following the next Governing Body meeting in February and will be making public the outcome of these Reviews in due course. The work will be undertaken during the Spring and Summer, with the work completed in time for presentation to the Governing Body in October 2020.

“We are aware that many of our students, staff and alumni have expressed important views on these topics in recent times, for which we are grateful, and hope that they will continue to engage with us in the future. We in turn are committed to listening and learning from previous instances of dealing with often challenging matters in the most rigorous manner possible”.

Image credit: Wikipedia.

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