The enquiry recounts sexual assault claims and disputes from the past five yearsTrinityHall/Wikimedia Commons

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of harassment and sexual assault, alongside mention of College disciplinary processes.

Trinity Hall students and alumni have drafted an open letter in response to Gemma White QC’s initial Inquiry Report into the alleged negligence by senior management at the College in dealing with sexual harassment allegations.

This follows an exposé by Tortoise Media from February of last year on the College’s disciplinary process in dealing with reports by multiple women of sexual assault.

The open letter, which has so far received over 70 signatures from current Trinity Hall students and 15 from college alumni, makes three demands.

Firstly, it asks that the JCR and MCR Women’s Officers are informed of the final membership of the Receiving Panel set to receive the Inquiry Report.

Secondly, it demands that certain information be disclosed in order to “restore student and alumni trust that the matters raised in the Tortoise article have been resolved.”

The information the open letter wishes to be made public include whether the Inquiry finds misconduct on the part of any current fellows or staff, the identity of fellows and staff identified in the initial Tortoise exposé, and a list of all recommended penalties for misconduct. 

 Finally, it states that “Trinity Hall must inform its members about any and all actions taken in response to the Inquiry Report”. 

The involvement of Gemma White QC, who has previously looked into bullying and harassment of parliamentary staff, was announced by the College on 2 April 2020. While she cannot re-open any complaints other than the case referenced in the Tortoise article of a student named “John”, White is expected to look into how the College “has handled complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment.” 

White was asked to produce an Inquiry Report including her methodology, analysis of evidence, findings and recommendations as well as a subsequent Report for Publication. 

Varsity has seen a response to the open letter issued by the Receiving Panel on 24 December 2020, in which they state that they have not yet received the full Inquiry Report. In this response, White informs that “the Inquiry Report will not contain any findings or statements about whether or not current fellows or staff have committed ‘misconduct’. Nor will [it] identify appropriate ‘penalties for misconduct’.” 

The response further elaborates that the Report for Publication “will explain the approach which has been taken and will identify, in general terms, information which has been withheld. The College will continue to engage with its members, including the student body, once the findings are reported and as recommendations are considered and implemented.” 

Trinity Hall informed Varsity that they “have received the Open Letter and responded”, but  “cannot comment further while the inquiry process is ongoing.”

Dr Maha Atal, who received her PhD at Trinity Hall in 2019 and has been involved in campaigning around the issue, stated that “in recent years, Trinity Hall has let down its members - students, staff and alumni - in its handling of allegations of sexual harassment and their fallout.” Atal said that she is “alarmed by these events and the college’s response to them” but that she applauds the decision to invite Gemma White QC to conduct the inquiry. 

Regarding the College’s response to the open letter, Atal said that she welcomes “the college’s December statements [and] that it recognises the need for openness and transparency.” 

She also made several demands regarding the contents of the Report for Publication: “In particular, members must be informed of whether the inquiry found that college fellows or staff mishandled complaints, whether the inquiry recommended disciplinary measures against any individual fellows or staff, what recommendations the inquiry has made for changes to policies and procedures going forward, and whether the recommended disciplinary measures or policy changes have been carried out."

She continued: “These disclosures will be essential for members to have trust that the inquiry’s findings and recommendations have been taken seriously by college leadership and to have confidence that such failures will not occur again.”

White's inquiry follows the continued fallout of revelations in the Tortoise article of a woman who, in February 2018, reported to her tutor, Dr Nick Guyatt, that she and two others had experienced harassment from student ‘D’.

In response, the acting Senior Tutor Dr William O’Reilly, at the head of Junior Members Committee later assembled to deal with the issue, told the woman that the complaints process should take no more than 40 days. However, it took 127 days, after the hearing was delayed, a process which this woman told Tortoise was “traumatic.”

The outcome of the hearing was an investigation into Guyatt in September 2018, after the alleged perpetrator reportedly claimed that “Guyatt encouraged the complaints [against him] for ‘political’ ends.” Despite being cleared in March the following year, he was not restored as a tutor, and proceeded to resign in July 2019.

During this same academic year, in May 2018, claims of sexual assault were brought against O’Reilly, who attended a police interview but was not charged, and proceeded to complete his tenure as acting Senior Tutor.


Mountain View

Trinity Hall’s lengthy silence was unacceptably detrimental to students

The investigation also provides details of the claims against Peter Hutchinson, a former fellow of the College since 1986. In September 2015, Hutchinson was banned from teaching undergraduates and attending any social events where undergraduates were present following incidents of “inappropriate, sexual and sexist comments”. Hutchinson was  'permanently withdrawn' from the College in 2017 but remained an Emeritus Fellow, and was briefly reinstated from May until November 2019, when he resigned a second time.

Chloe Newbold, the Women’s Officer of the Cambridge Student Union, told Varsity that: “This open letter highlights the need for Trinity Hall to take further steps to address the loss of trust that has resulted from its mishandling of cases of sexual assault and misconduct” and called for the College to be more “transparent with students” regarding the inquiry and the College’s response.

They added that these events are “symptomatic of the broader issue of individual colleges being ill-equipped to handle cases of harassment and sexual misconduct,” and that “if the colleges wish to live up to their duty of care to their students, they must commit to a standardised disciplinary procedure and refer all cases to the University’s Office for Student Conduct, Complaints, and Appeals (OSCCA).”