Please be aware that this story contains references to sexual violence. Any Cambridge student who has been subjected to any form of sexual violence either before or during their time at university can seek specialist emotional and practical support from the University’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor.
“Apologies for the not-so-nice nature of this. I’m due to have a conversation with another member of College tomorrow evening. I plan to confront him about a serious sexual assault he committed against me just over a year ago. [I] have been struggling more recently, and feel it’s necessary to discuss what happened with the perpetrator…”
An undergraduate at a small Cambridge University college let an academic know her plans one morning, early in 2018. “A friend advised that I give you a heads-up in case it doesn’t go well or has some effect on my work over the next couple of weeks.”
The recipient, Dr Nicholas Guyatt, was an academic at the same college, Trinity Hall. He was keen that the young woman should meet to discuss her plan.
Guyatt, a historian of America, then aged 44, had joined the college in 2015. One former student said he was not too worried about being popular with students – more “detached” than some others. Videos of his lectures show a lot of energy, gesticulation, wry smiles and nerdy humour.
Guyatt was also a tutor – he had particular pastoral responsibilities. He writes emails as he lectures, with clipped precision. By contrast, the messages sent to him by the student bounced with earnest youth: exclamation marks and thanks. Particularly at the start of what would become a brutal process, they burst with gratitude that someone is listening to her.
The emails are part of a cache of documents about events at Trinity Hall spanning 15 years and three different cases. Each case raises questions about the judgment of senior figures at the college who were tasked with student welfare.
The young woman, who would later be known as ‘A’, met with Guyatt on the day she wrote to him. In testimony, written more than a year later, he said: “I made A aware of the options facing her, from contacting the police, to exploring university/college mediation and/or disciplinary action, to doing nothing …‘A’ told me that two further students, B & C, had experienced similar behaviour” relating to the same man.
The man, referred to as ‘D’ in the document, was also a student. The women’s stories relate a pattern of behaviour: having got into an intimate situation with them, he disregarded their consent. The allegations varied, but included rape and sexual assault. D has denied all of their allegations.
In the end, A and B decided to make formal complaints through the college. C chose not to – although she did offer supporting testimony.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon scenario in higher education – and institutions have processes. Early on, Guyatt informed the college’s Senior Tutor, who plays an important role in the college, responsible not just for managing the other tutors, but also for safeguarding students and handling complex cases.
Dr William O’Reilly was new to the task. He was, strictly, the Acting Senior Tutor, taking up a temporary appointment to cover a period of research leave by the permanent holder of the role.
O’Reilly was best known for unprompted generosity, and helping people navigate college bureaucracy. “He definitely had a complex around being liked,” one former student said. He also has a reputation among students and staff alike as a gossip and a teller of tall tales.
The Irishman “was extremely personable and friendly and always put in quite a lot of effort with us – dropping his own books in our pigeonholes to help us read for essays.” Students coming in for tutorial meetings were offered tea or hot drinks.
He would be in charge of administering the process of the complaint against D.
What happened in Trinity Hall raises questions about how Cambridge, a university comprised of dozens of independent colleges, is run – and whether some parts of the institution are too small to run themselves. It is partly about how friendships can make a little institution impossible to govern.
But it is also a bigger story.
The factors at play in Trinity Hall exist everywhere in higher education; a largely white, middle-aged, male staff dealing with demands that they did not understand. Academics everywhere struggle with their varied roles, combining research, teaching, management and pastoral care for young people.
And, right across academia, people raising concerns have come to fear that institutions are more concerned about bad publicity than student well-being or safety.
One of the oldest Cambridge colleges, founded in 1350, Trinity Hall is jammed into a small gap, hemmed in on one side by the river Cam and the heft of Trinity College on another.
For would-be visitors, it is just a short walk from the vast photo-friendly facade of King’s College, but it goes unseen – tucked away down a narrow and overshadowed road. Its modest Georgian frontage could pass, just about, for a large mansion.
As one of the 31 constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, its students and staff are part of the university. But the college has a lot of independence. It controls its own admissions and staffing. Its alumni have included world leaders, Olympians and a Nobel laureate. The writer JB Priestley, physicist Stephen Hawking and public figures including the journalist Andrew Marr and actor Rachel Weisz all studied here.
Trinity Hall is often assumed to be an annex of neighbouring Trinity College – partly because of its confusing name, but also because “Tit Hall”, as it is universally known, is modest. It takes just 380 undergraduates and 260 postgraduates at a time. Inside its walls are three small quadrangles, which open out to narrow gardens that sprawl down to the river.
It is an intense community: students’ bedrooms and common rooms sit one on top of another, alongside the offices of the “fellows” – the academics bound to the college.
Trinity Hall’s buildings have been rebuilt over the centuries, but you can spot hints of its vintage in its management structures. The College’s head holds the title of Master, the Reverend Canon Dr Jeremy Morris. He is a Church of England clergyman and a historian of the secularisation of Britain. His previous jobs were as a chapel dean – at King’s College in Cambridge and Trinity Hall itself.
One fellow describes him as “very friendly, diplomatic, easy to get along with”. But a number of women in the college are sceptical about his attitude to #MeToo. In a letter to fellows in 2018, he characterised the movement as generating a period of “acute public sensitivity”.
One theme that runs through the large number of his emails seen by Tortoise is frustration at his inability to act with a free hand. He is not the ultimate authority in Trinity Hall. His powers are set out in a byzantine set of college rules. Major decisions, ultimately, are made by the rather unwieldy Governing Body (“GoBo”), a committee of its fellows with a variety of attendance and voting rights.
In 2018, that body had 73 members, only 18 of them women. At the time of the women’s complaint against the student known as D, the college’s four senior positions – Master, Vice Master, Bursar and Senior Tutor – were also all filled by men. That year, only four of the 20 most senior fellows were women.
The Master, the Bursar and the Deputy Bursar are the only people whose presence on the governing body is as administrators of the college. The rest are purely there as academics.
There are many long-standing friendships, unsurprisingly, given that one fifth of the fellows have been in post for more than 15 years. But there are also cliques and divisions.
The younger fellows make a lot of noise – these people, like Guyatt, tend to put pastoral care higher on the agenda than others. There is also an old guard who tend to side with the Master – traditionalists who are prone to believing a 650 year-old body has survived as it is for good reason. The Master told Tortoise: “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” (A full statement from Trinity Hall appears at the bottom of this article).
While it can be unwieldy, the GoBo can also be tamed. One fellow said the Master has become more “controlling” over the GoBo, a sentiment echoed by several colleagues.
The committee meets to discuss predictable matters like the relative academic performance of the college’s students. But there is also a lot of distinctly Cambridge admin: like appointing someone each year to gazette the college’s silver collection. In 2017, it spent time examining how Trinity Hall had lost £45,000 on the college ball.
This same body must deal with serious decisions. But the college can be quite averse to tackling awkward issues head-on. Some are dealt with in the shadows and via informal workarounds.
When concerns were raised by tutors in 2015 about a fellow using the college library to make sexual advances on students, the college barred all fellows from working in the library, citing a lack of study space. At the time, the fellow was not told.
When formal processes are activated, the GoBo forms panels to adjudicate on individual cases. It would fall to a group of four fellows to form a judgment on whether there was grounds for disciplinary action against D.
The colleges and the university have parallel disciplinary processes. Some complaints can be dealt with by either a college or the university. Some can only be dealt with by one. The complaint of sexual assault by A and B could only be dealt with by Trinity Hall.
The women could have gone to the police, but as more than one year had passed, the woman known as A told the college that the timescales involved meant proving her case “beyond reasonable doubt [the criminal standard of proof] would be extremely difficult”.
But she went ahead with the college process, writing later that she had decided to take action after hearing other women say they had similar experiences.
“I wanted to make sure that nobody else would endure the psychological, emotional and physical harm that I had experienced as a result of his actions.”
Trinity Hall’s process started by asking a law firm, Birkett’s, to make sure that – in the words of the college handbook – the complaints were not “frivolous” or “vexatious”.
Then the Master convened a disciplinary panel, a so-called Junior Members Committee (JMC), which would be composed of three academics, and chaired by a fourth – Nick Bampos, Vice Master of the college. They would need to judge the evidence around D.
Bampos is regarded fondly by students. A chemist who has previously served as Senior Tutor, he is also one of the old-timers, a fellow for 20 years.
But the process would ask a lot of what one fellow refers to as the “gentleman amateur” leadership of the college.
O’Reilly, the Acting Senior Tutor, was advising Guyatt and the other tutors supporting the women. And he was also in charge of making sure that D was looked after.
And at the same time, O’Reilly was making decisions on how the disciplinary process should be run. Student welfare representatives already had concerns that the Chinese walls between the academic and pastoral tutor system in the college were being breached. O’Reilly says this concern is unfounded.
There were also concerns that the accused student known as D had a close relationship with O’Reilly. In 2017, when the college was reallocating tutorial positions, D asked if O’Reilly could be made his tutor.
O’Reilly and D were also both members of a small secret dining club. The two men are on a short guest list for an event in early 2018 – not long before A’s first approach to Guyatt. O’Reilly, in the end, did not attend and denies any recent involvement in the club.
After a meeting in March, ‘A’ felt O’Reilly was seeking to deter her from complaining. He told her that she risked being sued for defamation if she were to raise a complaint within the college.
“During this meeting, the Senior Tutor told me bluntly that [D and his father] were preparing to launch a defamation lawsuit against me if I proceeded,” she wrote later.
In an email, sent at the time, O’Reilly said: “That is not something I said; it may be how it was interpreted… I felt it advisable to state that the accused was also exploring the possibility of elements of a complaint constituting defamation.”
A said: “The Senior Tutor offered no comfort or support, but instead suggested that I delay the submission of my complaint whilst I considered this development and sought further guidance…
“The confusion and fear was overwhelming – I broke down in tears, and left the room feeling that the painful steps I’d taken to initiate the complaint process might have been for nothing.”
Later, O’Reilly wrote to the women highlighting excerpts from the college rules outlining that the complaints process should take no more than 40 days. But, in the event, the hearing was delayed until July – after exam season, 127 days later. The women were not kept informed. O’Reilly says that the decision on timing was not taken by him.
“I felt dejected,” A wrote, “after two months of reliving, recounting and waiting, I was to push through the last weeks of preparing for my…exams without knowing anything about what was happening”.
When she eventually persuaded O’Reilly to see her, she said: “I remember him laughing incredulously at my suggestion that any information or documents shared with [D] should also be shown to the complainants.”
“When I expressed that I was finding the stress of the delay almost unbearable, the Senior Tutor told me I should consider the impact that my complaint had had on [D’s] mental health, exam preparations and social life…”
“I didn’t feel that my concerns were taken seriously at any point.” O’Reilly denies laughing at her, or raising D’s welfare.
On a warm day in late July 2018, the JMC sat in the Leslie Stephen Room, a conference room overlooking the college’s Georgian front quad. Bampos, the Vice Master, was in the chair.
His job was to chair the panel to a judgment, on the balance of probabilities. Evidence was presented, including messages exchanged between the undergraduates.
But D also argued that A and B had been led into making a complaint by Guyatt. Represented by his father, D would make the case that Guyatt encouraged the complaints for “political” ends.
Guyatt had been a supporter of a Cambridge-wide “Breaking the Silence” campaign to end harassment. Guyatt had also spoken at a University meeting in favour of making it easier for students to have complaints upheld by the central university.
One former student of Guyatt’s said he was known to be “woke”, though they clarified: “As we know, ‘woke’ in this context can actually mean just not being an apologist for sexual misconduct.”
D’s line of argument received support from two witnesses.
First, Juliet Bristow, the Trinity Hall mental health adviser, was called. The women had not used her services as a counsellor since the complaint process started, instead getting support elsewhere. According to ‘A’, Bristow had “barely” spoken to the women since the complaint process started.
In her testimony, Bristow cast doubt on the women’s statements. One person present at the meeting reported that Bristow described their behaviour as “atypical of women making such complaints”.
In the JMC, Bristow questioned Guyatt’s role in the process. In a later letter about him, she would write: “I have been shocked and concerned that Dr Nick Guyatt, in his capacity as Tutor, appears to have abused his position of power by overtly acting out his political bias…” Guyatt had, she said, pre-judged the guilt of D.
She highlighted the role Guyatt had played in helping A and B to write statements on what had happened to them. In the case of B, he had written the first draft. “Whilst it is the role of a Tutor to support their students during sexual assault investigations, it is very much not their role to seek out, encourage and write complainant witness statements,” she wrote.
Then O’Reilly, who was still acting as the college’s Senior Tutor, was called by D as a witness.
O’Reilly had produced a copy of one of A’s statements – a version with Microsoft Word’s “track changes” function switched on, showing Guyatt’s edits to the document. This evidence, he testified, showed how Guyatt had changed the “tone and perhaps the intent” of the statement. O’Reilly says this was the consequence of leading questions.
No-one dissented. Guyatt, who had no role in the disciplinary process, was not there. The women who had made the sexual assault complaints felt dissuaded from attending. The Master had written to A: “Since the respondent has not asked you to appear as a witness…it appears that there will be no need for you to make the journey here for the hearing.”
This was striking. D’s line of argument was not a surprise to the college: he had raised it earlier with the lawyers who prepared the initial report. The Master himself had asked D to delay from making a complaint about Guyatt until after the JMC hearing.
But Bampos, the Vice Master chairing the JMC, offered no opportunity to A, B or Guyatt to respond. The panel made an immediate decision: “The JMC cannot, on the balance of probabilities, conclude whether these acts happened”.
There was, however, one outcome: Guyatt was to be investigated.
Shortly after the JMC hearing, Bampos wrote to the Master as chair of the panel, noting the concerns raised by O’Reilly and Bristow. Bristow wrote setting out her concerns that Guyatt was encouraging women to raise formal complaints. Finally, there was a formal complaint from D.
For six months, until March 2019, Guyatt’s behaviour was under review. The potential penalty was being fired from his post. An external lawyer, under the supervision of a senior fellow, was asked to establish the facts.
Guyatt was allowed to continue teaching, but he could not stay in post as a tutor, which meant he lost money.
The lawyer’s verdict, in the end, was conclusive. One of the few academics who saw a copy said it was an “exoneration of Nick, and awful for everyone else”. Guyatt had no case to answer.
Bristow is implicitly criticised in the report. It found no evidence that Guyatt had encouraged the complaints, or was acting out a “political bias”. This allegation was supported by neither the women nor by documentary evidence.
The document, shared with us by a fellow academic who said they wanted “justice for Nick”, found that Bristow’s view of his conduct was not shared by other professionals involved in the case. University officers felt his conduct “was as it should be – one used the word ‘exemplary’…”
The lawyer concluded: “he believed that best practice is to take…complaints seriously and that is right.”
It acknowledged the force of one of Bristow’s concerns: the fact that he wrote B’s first draft of her statement “tested the limits of appropriate tutorial response”.
But, the lawyer wrote, Guyatt had an understanding with B that the text was just “a starting point” text for her to work on, and his role was “to be helpful, to give some guidance on format and style”. Never having made such a complaint, she “did not know how to express herself” and he was “simply trying to give her a boost”.
On the question of whether he had changed the women’s statements, he was cleared. Contrary to O’Reilly’s evidence, the investigation found that Guyatt’s edits to A’s statements were “mainly about drafting rather than substance”. Supporting the woman to put her “best foot forward” in her statement was appropriate.
The report argues that Guyatt should have been more “cautious”, given that he was also an advocate for the university to change harassment policies. But as one of his colleagues put it: “The criticism is that Nick had a view about pastoral care, which he did not keep to himself”.
In the months afterwards, despite this finding, the College did not restore Guyatt – or recompense him for the legal fees or his lost earnings as a tutor. Guyatt chose to resign his fellowship.
These findings raised serious questions about other college staff.
Bristow, who sharply criticised Guyatt, declined to take any part in the lawyers’ investigation into Guyatt. A spokesperson for Bristow said she was “concerned that in a serious complaint, as well as the complainants, a respondent should receive fair procedural support.
“She was asked to place her opinion in writing and with some reluctance did so, on the understanding that this would remain confidential. She is deeply disappointed that this confidential information has been made public.”
Bampos remains as Vice Master after presiding over the hearing which came to a verdict in part on the basis of evidence that he did not allow to be challenged by A, B or Guyatt.
But it is Jeremy Morris, the Master of the College, who has the hardest questions to answer: why were the allegations of sexual assault not revisited when the review found nothing wrong with Guyatt’s support for the women?
What about the role the Master permitted for O’Reilly? The document trail shows how closely Guyatt was acting under O’Reilly’s supervision: if O’Reilly believed Guyatt was acting inappropriately, he had opportunities to act on it – but never did.
At the JMC, it is also noteworthy that O’Reilly gave evidence while serving as Senior Tutor. A Senior Tutor is a powerful witness; the letter to the JMC panel setting out the charge sheet against D came from him.
But the biggest question is: why was O’Reilly, at that moment, in post? Two months before the JMC hearing, a student had come forward with a serious allegation against William O’Reilly.
On 6 May 2018, Jeremy Morris, the Master, learned that a current Trinity Hall student had decided to come forward about something he said had happened some years earlier.
This student, who we will call John, told his tutor that he had accepted a drink in O’Reilly’s room. Then, according to his account, he awoke a little time later, to find himself being sexually assaulted.
O’Reilly fiercely denies the allegations and says John’s account has been inconsistent and his motivations are malicious. O’Reilly would, later on, attend a voluntary interview with the police. He was never arrested or charged, and no further action would be taken by the police.
The college’s response to the account it received from a student is what one vice-chancellor of a Russell Group university called “absolutely fucking mad…Are they deranged?”
The Master heard the allegation on a Sunday at the beginning of that summer term – when O’Reilly was still Acting Senior Tutor and still immersed in the first case. That was the week when the process involving A, B and their alleged attacker D was delayed until after exams.
According to the Master’s own account, he then sought legal advice. And more than one month later, in mid-June, he met John and his tutor.
In an email to John, setting out the timeline, the Master said: “You repeated what you had already told [the fellow] about the incident…we all agreed that referral to the police was the appropriate way forward.”
John went to the police in early July, after his exams. He emailed his tutor on the same day about it. The Master told John that he learned that a police report had been made in “mid-September 2018”.
During this period, O’Reilly was allowed to finish his term as Acting Senior Tutor – the college’s lead safeguarding officer. He stood down, as planned, in August.
O’Reilly continued to chair the meetings of tutors, the group of fellows responsible for student welfare. In the summer term, in May and June, O’Reilly taught heavily – including students from other colleges. He was the person to whom vulnerable students were referred within the college.
He also ran the JMC process in the case of the women who accused D of sexual assault. The Master allowed him to be involved in that process more than two months after he had been put on notice of the allegation against O’Reilly.
O’Reilly said there was no conflict of interest in his testimony, which supported D. His continuing position teaching and in the college was also reasonable; according to O’Reilly, he was unaware of John’s complaint at that time. He only learned about the allegation made against him when Cambridgeshire Police contacted him in early October.
According to O’Reilly, there was a five-month period when the Master knew about the allegation, but O’Reilly did not. The Master left him in post for five months without taking any “preventative” action – moving him aside while the matter was investigated – or making any efforts to establish whether it was true.
The Master has declined to confirm or deny O’Reilly’s timeline about when he told O’Reilly, citing confidentiality concerns.
Trinity Hall students who left in 2018 have a memento of this strange period. Their graduation photograph was taken on 28 June 2018. The Master, at that time having heard an allegation against a member of his academic staff, sits in the middle of the photo. O’Reilly sits at his left, apparently oblivious.
According to O’Reilly’s account, as soon as he was notified about the allegations, he stepped back from “supervisions” – Cambridge’s term for small-group tuition – while the matter was resolved. He reorganised his teaching from early October until late November.
Tortoise has, however, seen records suggesting he taught at least five undergraduates in supervisions that term, and has identified undergraduates who were taught by him in late October and November.
Another vice-chancellor told Tortoise that they would have put someone facing such an allegation immediately “on research leave…you deal with the safeguarding stuff by getting them out of the place, get the police process underway”.
University officers in Cambridge have expressed shock at the college’s approach. In an email from the Master to John, he implied that he had the support of the central university in how he handled the case: “I sought OSCCA’s [Cambridge University’s Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals] advice when you first raised this matter.”
That implies May 2018. But it was only in October, when O’Reilly was interviewed by the police, that the university advice centre was told about the allegation and who was at the centre of it – and only then in a brief phone call.
There had been, the university said, “hypothetical” conversations before that. But university officials were alarmed to learn from Tortoise that the college had heard the complaint in May – and that O’Reilly had been left in post throughout.
In November, the police process closed; “no further action” would be taken. But John wanted more from the college – a safeguarding or disciplinary process.
He wrote to the Master in late 2019, a year after the close of the case: “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.”
Replying, the Master disputed this. He cited legal advice that “it was doubtful that the College could pursue the matter itself”. No further reason was given and it was not proceeded with.
The college’s responses appear inconsistent: Guyatt’s post as a tutor was not renewed while the investigation into the way he supported students was ongoing; A and B brought serious complaints about D without needing to secure a police prosecution.
Even if the college were not able to add much to the police effort, the disciplinary investigation would have looked more broadly at O’Reilly’s behaviour. An investigation might have untangled evidence from another episode: three weeks after the date of the alleged assault on John, O’Reilly rang another Cambridge college to report an allegation. He is alleged to have said that that one of their fellows, a historian, was being investigated for sexually assaulting an undergraduate.
This account was investigated by fellows at the other college, but they found the accused fellow was not in Cambridge on the relevant day. Moreover, the alleged victim denied to the college that he had made the allegation. O’Reilly says this account of what concerns he was raising is incorrect.
In a statement to Tortoise, the Master said: “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 2018, however, the Master was busy. That November, just weeks after the police investigations ended, the Master wrote to the governing body about “a very challenging Fellowship matter” which had been occupying their energies.
This was not a reference to the O’Reilly allegation.
It was something much older.
To understand Trinity Hall in 2018, you need to understand a saga that had been going on for 13 years. The events of 2018 all bobbed in the wake of 2005.
Peter Hutchinson had been teaching languages at the college for years, a fixture of the fellowship since 1986. But, in 2005, Hutchinson was arrested on a charge of sexual assault.
The complainant was a former student. Eleanor Pyemont (then Hinchcliff) had been visiting a friend in the city. She arranged to have a drink with Hutchinson in his office; he had recently written her a reference for an application to MI6.
She says he groped her: she would tell a court that he made a “pervy, Benny Hill, lascivious, groaning sort of noise” as he did so. Then a trainee police officer, Pyemont said she thought: “Oh, that’s a shame. I’ll finish up, leave and will have to not talk to him again.”
Hutchinson’s recollection was that: “I was captivated by her appearance – she was very smartly dressed, and her hair appeared to have been recently restyled. So, I found her attractive and enjoyed being with her, but I had absolutely no sexual designs on her…I did touch/smooth her hair, but that is absolutely all that I did.”
But he also told the police: “If she were standing next to me at the computer I might have patted her bottom. This was because I had done so on two previous occasions.” (In court, Pyemont disputed these previous events.)
Pyemont then says Hutchinson made two attempts to grab and kiss her. Fresh from police training, Pyemont knocked him back with her forearm and rushed away.
Hutchinson said: “When she was ready to leave, I went to give her our usual hug and to kiss her cheek…and she pushed me away. I believe that I then instinctively went again to give her a hug.”
She felt she should go to the police. The ensuing trial for sexual assault received a lot of coverage: Hutchinson’s explanation was that “maybe the gin had gone to my head. It was a stiff one. I think I must have found her irresistible. But I didn’t use force, she’s bigger than me”.
Hutchinson told Tortoise that should be understood to refer to his hugging of her. “I had not immediately recognised that, for some reason, she no longer wanted to exchange a hug with me in the way that she had done on her arrival.”
Hutchinson was tried twice, after the first attempt ended in a mistrial. In that first trial, Pyemont says, Hutchinson “acted with some dignity…His defence strategy was not to call me a liar, a fantasist or a provocateuse”.
But, at the retrial, held in Norwich, Pyemont was quizzed for one-and-a-half days: a question that stuck in her mind was: “Define for me ‘leading someone up the garden path’.”
Hutchinson was acquitted, and returned to the college. But it had not been edifying.
He told Tortoise that, during the trial, the prosecutor “kept asking whether I patted other women’s bottoms, to which I replied truthfully that I had, although this was a very small number of women and definitely not undergraduates. The context would be that I would hug someone as they left and then possibly give them a pat on the bottom as they moved away”.
The Daily Mirror reported this under the headline: “SEX CASE DON: I PAT BOTTOMS”.
A fact that would be raised a decade later was that Hutchinson was allowed to mark his acquittal with an event in the college. Hutchinson told Tortoise: “The food and drink were supplied by me and my wife, not the College.”
There is, however, a fictionalised reflection on the trial, buried in a book published by a little-known writer called Barry Able.
The account is deep within “First Time: Ooh-La-La”, a novel set in an Oxford college. The “series of erotic adventures” begins with two of the fictional college fellows watching the meeting of a society of undergraduate women – “the Virgins” – through binoculars. There are repeated comments on the women’s breasts. Within the first few pages, a character notes: “That’s what we used to call a “perky pair”…”
Barry Able, in truth, is Dr Peter Hutchinson. The book, he says, should not be taken too seriously. The account “is buried inside a nom-de-plume, the setting is Oxford, and it is a modernised travesty of Waugh’s ‘Decline and Fall’. Much is pure fantasy.”
Hutchinson says: “One of my academic books was ‘Games Authors Play’, and so the sources of this particular novel are multiple and complex.”
He said the book’s view of women was “liberated”, adding: “Women are taking over what men have done before. In the opening scene, for example, an all-women’s society is in control, totally liberated, it is they who are ‘conquering’ men, not the other way around.”
The 2015 book is centred on a man called “Peter” who, later on, is arrested and tried for sexual assault following the accusation of a woman called “Jane”. Dialogue from the real criminal processes is put into the mouths of the characters. In the novel, there is even a nod to the mistrial: Peter is convicted, but is released when the verdict is deemed unsafe.
But the fantasy version of the incident at its heart is quite different to Hutchinson’s prior accounts. In reality, the linguist is clear that he had no designs on Pyemont. In the novel, however, the fictionalised event is presented as an attempt at seduction which went wrong.
In conversation with his solicitor, the fictional Peter says: “Of course I thought she wanted me to touch her! And well, if she didn’t, why didn’t she say no, or why didn’t she move away, or why didn’t she leave …” He was careful in this scene, Hutchinson told Tortoise, but the re-imagining of what happened “is indeed so broad that it bears no relation to real life”.
The author has a character mourn that, in an older era, the incident might have ended with a slap in the face – not a trial. Hutchinson says this observation is rooted in conversations he had with two women.
The college did not know about Barry Able’s work, which was published in 2015. A fellow expressed horror to Tortoise about the book, suggesting it spoke to a concerning attitude.
Hutchinson said: “Does the novel speak to a particular view of undergraduate women which is troubling in a teacher? I suppose that some might say so, but this is fiction, not life… an author very rarely thinks the same way as his main character.”
The cover, however, might also have caused him trouble. The model for the cover photograph, which shows a young woman’s stockinged leg, was a student. The model, Hutchinson says, had told him she proudly planned to show the book cover to her grandchildren, one day.
Hutchinson said: “I don’t really see a problem about using an unidentifiable photo of a Trinity Hall student, especially since she was very pleased to provide it… I feel I need to emphasise …that I did not take the photo, nor was I present when it was taken.”
As it happens, the very week that Hutchinson’s book was published, the secret novelist fell into trouble – for non-fiction reasons.
On 9 September 2015, Clare Jackson, then the Senior Tutor, wrote to the tutors: ”A formal complaint was submitted to myself and the Master (together with two other Fellows) from ten undergraduates (both male and female) claiming that they had been ‘subjected to harassment by Dr Hutchinson in the form of inappropriate sexual and sexist comments drawn out over an extended period of time’.”
The allegations included asking students if they would “sleep their way to the top” or if one wanted “a big kiss”. He asked another student in his care whether something “turn[s] you on”.
Hutchinson says that these were rhetorical questions. Most occurred in the course of teaching specific texts. The comment about whether something turned someone on came about in “discussion of Kafka’s most famous story, Metamorphosis”.
Jackson wrote that Hutchinson had “agreed to withdraw permanently from supervising Trinity Hall undergraduates”. (Under pressure from fellows, the bar was later extended to all undergraduates of all colleges.)
Hutchinson retired – he “did not wish to carry on without the involvement with students that had been the focus of my career”. But he would get an “emeritus” fellowship automatically because of his long service. And he would retain the right to attend college events, so long as no undergraduates were present.
There was disquiet. Hutchinson felt “prosecuted, judged and sentenced all within an hour of being charged”. But one fellow would email their colleagues that his presence on the fellowship was “an insult to the students, and frankly, an insult to the rest of the fellowship”.
This delicate balancing act would also not last. In November 2017, the college held one of its so-called Milestones Lectures, an exploration of the rooftop in French cinema. It was also an event attended by undergraduates – and Hutchinson, who had been invited by accident. Students complained.
Once again, there was press interest. This was the start of the #MeToo movement – the first of the flood of accusations against the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein were published just weeks before. Journalists were notified that Hutchinson had agreed to withdraw permanently from the life of the college.
In their panic, the college mishandled the response. While his name was removed from the Trinity Hall website, Hutchinson remained in law an Emeritus Fellow.
It also rapidly transpired that the public statements given by the college about his departure – stating that Hutchinson had agreed to a “permanent” exclusion – were incorrect. Hutchinson, in his own view, had agreed to “stay away from college for a while in order to defuse the situation”.
The college had also issued a statement in Hutchinson’s name to which he did not agree. Hutchinson had wished to acknowledge there were “comments I had made over several months in 2014-15 that they considered were of an inappropriate sexual and sexist nature”.
The words “they considered” were cut from the final version, turning his comment into a confession.
The college leadership knew it had messed up. An external review of the process and decision was ordered early in 2018. This is the moment when the other cases emerged. A and B made their complaint in March 2018, while John came forward in May. Both cases came just as the college leadership was bracing itself to be told that it had mishandled the Hutchinson case.
When it finally appeared in June, the external review, which has been seen by Tortoise, was damning. It revealed that, at the height of the coverage, newspapers were removed from the college so prospective students would not see coverage.
The report found the Master had exceeded his authority, too. The minutes of the governing body meeting that followed noted: “He had found himself in an unprecedented position, leading to him effectively excluding an Emeritus Fellow from the College when he was not as such authorized to do so.”
The report confirmed that getting rid of Hutchinson was possible, but would require a resolution of the GoBo. Having been criticised by the external report, the Master recused himself from the meeting so they could discuss what to do next.
It was proposed by Bampos, the Vice Master who took the chair, that they should reintroduce Hutchinson under his limited terms.
Bampos also seemed determined not to go back into Hutchinson’s past record. The Master had previously dismissed online complaints from alumni, some of whom raised new complaints about Hutchinson, as a “social media mob”. In a statement to Tortoise, the Master said “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.”
Fellows also say Bampos also downplayed Hutchinson’s behaviour: one eyewitness said that Bampos referred to “misunderstanding” and “cultural issues”.
Fellows attribute this attitude to concern about scrutinising decisions that they had made earlier. The Master had been in post in 2015. Even further back, Bampos, the Vice Master, had served as Senior Tutor.
Hutchinson also had friends around the table – including a habitual defender in the bursar, Paul ffolkes Davis. The two had served on the investments committee for many years. This committee, famous in the college for champagne toasts to the investments at meetings, has a close-knit group at its core.
The bursar takes credit for the college’s strong financial position. Last year, he proposed that he deserved a bonus if, as planned, the college managed to sell the Cambridge and Counties, a little bank that Trinity Hall had come to own.
But around a dozen mostly younger fellows were trying to have Hutchinson thrown out. Facing this pressure, the college leaders set up a panel to work out what could be done. However, the college leadership was clearly displeased with the troublemakers – one of whom was Nick Guyatt.
In a small college, the conflicts about Hutchinson created conflicts of interest which may have affected the handling of the case involving the two women known as A and B.
On July 6, there was a widely discussed confrontation between Guyatt and Bampos in Guyatt’s office. The two men argued loudly enough that it was heard by at least one academic waiting outside for a meeting. It was the Hutchinson case that had triggered the shouting.
A few weeks later, it was Bampos who would chair the meeting which dismissed A and B’s complaints after hearing evidence of Guyatt’s behaviour in support of them. It was Bampos who, shortly afterwards, would send a letter to the Master supporting an investigation into Guyatt’s conduct.
Guyatt’s colleagues believe that the college leadership may have responded with more vigour to the criticisms of Guyatt raised in the JMC because he had been such a nuisance over Hutchinson.
One told Tortoise: “I do think the college leadership wanted to get rid of him. The college was caught up in unethical behaviour, and Nick was openly holding them to a higher standard.”
Still, in July 2018, that was the future. For the time being, the energy of the mostly young fellows was focussed on the Working Group on Hutchinson. In late July, the Master wrote to all fellows to tell them that the Working Group would be led by the Acting Senior Tutor: William O’Reilly.
From the beginning, proponents of expelling Hutchinson feared that the Working Group might be leaned on by the leadership to get Hutchinson readmitted.
On 2 October 2018, the O’Reilly working group confirmed their fears. Rather than removing his fellowship, it proposed a “more proportionate sanction” would be to limit Hutchinson’s right to attend, for example, college dinners. The GoBo was not satisfied. The O’Reilly Working Group was sent away to get legal advice.
The bursar was clearly annoyed: ffolkes Davis complained that the college had been “squandering” money on investigating harassment (a statement for which he later apologised, at the request of another fellow).
One fellow’s note of the meeting said that the Bursar mused aloud about getting legal advice on preventing students from making complaints, such as those made against Hutchinson (the college noted that they never actually sought such advice).
The Working Group was replaced by another group of fellows who, in the end, drafted options on what could be done about Hutchinson. They sought legal advice on them, a process that lasted for six months, until May 2019. What resulted, however, was not the kind of legal advice the fellows had ever seen before.
Fellows say the advice to them claimed that they had obligations under charity law to follow the college lawyers’ advice on what to do, unless they believed there were errors in it.
One fellow told Tortoise: “Fellows obviously have the right to note the lawyer’s advice on the balance of risks, but decide a legally riskier path is worthwhile if, for example, we think it is the right way to make our college’s position on harassment clear”
The advice contained a warning that Hutchinson might seek damages for breach of contract or libel. Trinity Hall fellows can all recite one line of the advice from memory: it warned against making Hutchinson a “martyr”.
The advice also warned that fellows proposing motions for his dismissal could be personally sued for libel. One fellow saw it as “singling out or threatening fellows”.
The fellows were urged by Bampos to disregard “a Twitter storm”. On 14 May 2019, 31 fellows voted to reinstate Hutchinson, subject to an agreement. Five voted against.
This was a fight about tolerance of harassment, on one side, and the public reputation of a long-serving college servant on the other. But the agreement they reached, in the end, was about dinner.
After years of fighting, Hutchinson agreed to come back, but to “limit his attendance to dinners outside term and to Tuesday dinners in term whilst the sitting is limited to fellows and non-student guests”.
He could attend the “Bateman Feast”, too, an annual dinner for fellows and “distinguished” guests. He would be allowed into the fellows’ garden, the common room and to attend “private funerals”.
Hutchinson’s readmission was not noticed by outsiders. But when a BBC reporter noticed it in October 2019, Trinity Hall’s decision led that night’s national news. Two weeks of press coverage later, Hutchinson resigned. The college announced it would review its processes.
Hutchinson said he quit “partly for the sake of myself and my family, but also in order to help the College (which I had previously held in great affection) out of a situation that was becoming a very serious threat to its reputation”.
In a statement to Tortoise, the Master said “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.”
The college is holding two reviews – one of governance and one around discipline – in the wake of the Hutchinson crisis.
But, as of today, the college has refused to examine the allegations about O’Reilly, despite John making clear his preference as recently as December 2019.
Despite being undermined by the independent investigation, the JMC verdict into the sexual assault allegations made by the female students A and B has never been revisited. Bampos remains in post. Bristow has now left Trinity Hall.
Guyatt is now at Jesus College, down the road. One colleague reflected that he “selflessly put his job at TH on the line in order to do what he felt was right. Instead of cherishing a member who demonstrated unusually strong moral fibre, Trinity Hall tried to snuff him out”.
But the women and man who trusted the college suffered the most serious harm.
The woman who became known as A would later write: “The entire process was traumatic – I was patronised, gaslit and denied access to crucial information about my complaint. Looking back, I feel incredibly naive for trusting the College leadership. Trinity Hall is not interested in protecting its students, only in servicing its own reputation – I cannot confidently say that any student or member of staff there is adequately safeguarded.”
The small size of the college was certainly an accelerant in causing difficulty with these allegations. The Master, reviewing the year in 2018, told the governing body “we do not have either the specialist expertise in our own body, or perhaps sufficient depth of numbers, to ensure that we can adequately investigate and adjudicate the most serious allegations”.
But Trinity Hall is not alone. John told Tortoise: “Cambridge colleges have these quirks…There are these internal cliques of these old boys’ clubs that do look after each other. But I was naive about the fact that this really was a thing. That may be how Trinity Hall is worse than other places.
“But it’s probably about as safe as anywhere else. Which isn’t very safe.”
Authors: Chris Cook and Ella Hill
Editors: David Taylor and Basia Cummings
Photographs: Tom Pilston
Graduation photograph: Lafayette Photography
Graphics: Chris Newell
Design: Jon Hill
Picture editor: Joe Mee