Rvd Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity HallUniversity of Cambridge

Content note: This article contains detailed discussion of sexual assault and harassment.

A detailed investigation by Tortoise Media has revealed that last year, Trinity Hall Acting Senior Tutor Dr William O’Reilly oversaw a disciplinary process involving multiple womens’ reports of being sexually assaulted by a student who was said to have a “close relationship” with O’Reilly.

The accused student was in the same secretive dining club as O’Reilly and had specifically requested him to be his personal tutor, in a revealing example of how existing interpersonal relationships within a tightly-knit college can give rise to potential conflicts of interest.

The complaint revolved around a case made against ‘D’, a male student at Trinity Hall. Beginning in February 2018, two female students made official complaints against ‘D’, with a third female student offering a supporting testimony.

At the hearing, O’Reilly was called as a witness by ‘D’, in which he claimed that Dr Nicholas Guyatt, the Trinity Hall tutor who was supporting the two female complainants, unfairly encouraged them to submit complaints.

In full: Trinity Hall's comment on the Tortoise investigation

“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.

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."

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Tortoise has also exposed that just two months prior to the disciplinary hearing on that case, O’Reilly had himself been accused of sexual assault by another student in the college.

The Master of Trinity Hall, Jeremy Morris, allowed O’Reilly to remain in his role for five months after hearing the allegation against O’Reilly, while taking no ‘preventative’ action or investigating the allegation. Indeed, for these five months between May and October 2018, neither O’Reilly nor the University’s Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA) were aware that a student had come forward with an allegation against O’Reilly.

A spokesperson for O’Reilly said, “Dr O’Reilly believes he acted with integrity and followed appropriate safeguarding advice throughout the various internal processes at Trinity Hall. He rejects any suggestion that he behaved improperly and is appalled that what should have been confidential procedures have been made public.

“He strenuously denies the serious allegation made against him by someone for whom he acted as tutor. He first became aware of it when he voluntarily attended the police station in October 2018; in early November 2018 police informed him the matter was not being pursued. During that time he withdrew himself from supervisory teaching duties. No charges were made, he was not arrested, and no further action has been taken.”

However Tortoise say they have seen evidence that O’Reilly did not withdraw from supervising students, but taught at least five undergraduate students in Michaelmas 2018.

A further concern raised about the hearing for ‘D’ was the role of the college mental health advisor, Juliet Bristow, as a witness on behalf of ‘D’. Bristow “cast doubt on the women’s statements” despite, allegedly, barely having spoken to them since the complaints process began. After a hearing, the panel’s decision was inconclusive. Guyatt was investigated for his involvement with the student’s complaints, and subsequently cleared. He later resigned as a fellow, and moved to Jesus College.

The investigation posed the question of why, despite the lawyer’s findings, “were the allegations of sexual assault not revisited when the review found nothing wrong with Guyatt’s support for the women?”

A University spokesperson said to Varsity today, “The University continuously works to improve the prevention, response, support and investigation of all instances of harassment and sexual misconduct. The collegiate University’s mission can be achieved only by collaboration.

“All members of the University community have an individual and a collective responsibility to ensure that their professional relationships are sensitive to the imbalances of power that exist within any organisation, and to promote a culture of inclusivity, underpinned by mutual respect.”

The Tortoise investigation also includes new information about the complaints made against Peter Hutchinson, a former Trinity Hall fellow. Hutchinson was accused of sexually harassing several students, yet he had successfully contested Trinity Hall’s decision to ban him from contacting and teaching students. This effectively allowed Hutchinson to continue to attend certain events. Hutchinson resigned last November after criticism from alumni, students, and media pressure.

The Tortoise investigation includes the testimony of Eleanor Pyemont, about her encounter with Hutchinson in 2005, in which she took him to court for sexual assault.

Hutchinson was aquitted in a retrial yet continued to work as a fellow at the college until 2017, when ten Trinity Hall students submitted complaints about sexual harassment.

Within hours of the investigation’s publication, Jeremy Morris’ Twitter account was deactivated.

The investigation also questions whether the friendships made within the management structures of Cambridge colleges “can make a little institution impossible to govern”. In particular, it highlights the role of college dining societies in solidifying internal friendships which may create bias in favour of those who are accused of sexual assault.

Trinity Hall is currently undertaking two investigations — into governance and discipline.

In response to the publication of the investigation, an email was sent to Trinity Hall students from current Senior Tutor Claire Jackson expressing “regret [about] the distress, anxiety and concern that will be felt by many who read the article. Jackson insists that she personally takes the “fair handling of complaints… extremely seriously”.

Trinity Hall directed Varsity to its statement to Tortoise Media when contacted earlier today. In their statement to Varsity, the University spokesperson added, “There is no place for any form of harassment or sexual misconduct at the University of Cambridge. Such behaviour subverts the University’s mission and core values, and diminishes the integrity and dignity of all parties.

“The University and the Colleges are autonomous organisations and do not have oversight of each other’s procedures and actions. Notwithstanding this autonomy, the Collegiate University has worked together on prevention, support and reporting procedures in relation to sexual misconduct, with Colleges being widely consulted in relation to the University actions.

“This work has been a priority for the University since 2015, culminating most recently in October 2019 with the University’s revised student disciplinary procedures. These procedures provide a transparent and accessible process for investigating and sanctioning sexual misconduct, using the balance of probabilities standard of proof. It is in line with the best practice in the sector and compliant with the external ombudsman’s good practice framework.”

The spokesperson for O’Reilly said, “In 14 years at Cambridge University Dr O’Reilly has acted as a supervisor and a tutor to many hundreds of students, usually on a one-to-one basis, and has never previously had a complaint levelled against him.”

Updated 11.12am 19 February 2020: This article was updated to include comment from a spokesperson for Dr O’Reilly.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources: