An email was sent out to all students and staff of the History Faculty this morningRosie Bradbury

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

Students and staff in the History Faculty have been asked to “refrain from discussing [...] with the press or on social media” the details of a recent investigation by Tortoise Media into potential conflicts of interest in Trinity Hall’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations.

The email was sent out to students and staff in the Faculty of History this morning by Professor Alexandra Walsham, the Faculty Chair.

Dr William O’Reilly, who teaches undergraduate and graduate students in the faculty as a Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History, oversaw a disciplinary process involving multiple women’s reports of being sexually assaulted by a male student. He reportedly maintained a “close relationship” with the male student while he was Acting Senior Tutor at Trinity Hall in 2018.

Tortoise also reported during this time, O’Reilly had himself been accused of sexually assaulting another student in the College. He attended a voluntary interview with the police, but was not arrested or charged.


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Concerns raised of potential conflicts of interest in Trinity Hall’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations

O'Reilly lectures on two papers for Part I of the undergraduate history tripos and convenes two Part II papers: one on life in the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires, and another on the history of Central European cities. Both Part II papers include the option of a field-trip to Vienna, which have previously taken place during the winter vacation in 2018 and the easter vacation in 2019.

A spokesperson for O’Reilly said: “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”.

O’Reilly claims he withdrew from supervising students when he was made aware of the allegations against him and only resumed teaching when the police decided that no further action would be taken.

However, Tortoise allege they have seen evidence suggesting he supervised several undergraduate students during this period. O’Reilly continues to dispute this.

Addressing the “serious allegation made against one of the Faculty’s staff” in Tortoise’s article, Walsham stressed “this was dismissed by the police and that no further action has been taken.”

“The University takes allegations about sexual misconduct by staff and students very seriously,” she continued. “At the present time, it is satisfied that no additional steps need to be taken in the interests of the welfare of the Faculty’s students and staff.”

It is currently unclear if the University or History Faculty have ever investigated the allegations against Dr O’Reilly.

One year after O’Reilly’s case was closed by police, the student who submitted the complaint again wrote to the Trinity Hall Master: “I had been told not that the college could not pursue the matter, but rather that it would not be appropriate for it to do so while there was an ongoing police investigation. I did however expect that the college would pursue its own internal investigation afterwards.” The Master disputed the student’s statement at the time, citing legal advice but gave no specific reason, according to Tortoise.

A University spokesperson told Varsity, "The University regards the welfare of its students as its highest priority. In this instance it believes it has taken the necessary steps to protect this. If this changes, then further action will be taken at the appropriate point."

Walsham asked that students and staff “respect the privacy” of O’Reilly and direct any requests for comment from the press regarding the case to the University’s Communication Office.

The email also included links to Breaking the Silence and student complaint procedures as “further sources of help and advice.”

Ben Margolis, a third-year History undergraduate, told Varsity that he was “shocked and disappointed that in light of such serious allegations about a fellow of their faculty, the chair feels this is an appropriate comment to send to undergraduate students.”

“Given that at every point during the cases outlined in the Tortoise article victims were treated with cynicism and contempt by senior staff, the faculty should be encouraging a culture of openness, not trying to silence student voices.”

Another undergraduate student who received the email, who wished to remain anonymous, said it “displayed a complete lack of regard for the safety and welfare of students by the Faculty of History — the privacy of O’Reilly was mentioned without any mention of the hurt that this has caused to victims of sexual harassment.

“Warning students against speaking out in the press or on social media represents an attempt by the faculty to silence the voices of students who have taken the hard decision to come forward and report these offences.”

A University spokesperson said, "The Faculty of History, along with the University, takes its safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously. It is also fully aware that the experiences of students involved in any incident of alleged sexual misconduct can be extremely traumatic.

"The Faculty of History is not trying to silence students. The email from the Chair of Faculty was a request to exercise restraint in public comment regarding an individual who has not been charged with a crime and who vigorously asserts his innocence. It is the same advice that the University offers when students find themselves in difficult situations."

Meanwhile, 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.

“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 5.45pm 19 February 2020: This article was updated to include comment from the University in relation to the email from the History Faculty.

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