Statement from Trinity Hall
Message from Gemma White QC: 5 May 2021
It has been a long time since I provided information about the Inquiry and I am writing with an update on progress towards publication of a report. I delivered the Inquiry Report to the College in January but, as I explained in my last message, there were issues which the College needed to consider, with legal advice, before I could produce a draft of the report intended for publication. Having considered the Inquiry Report, the Governing Body decided on a framework of principles against which it proposed that the draft report for publication should be produced. The framework was communicated to me in early March and I delivered a draft report to a committee of College Fellows (referred to as “the Receiving Panel”) which has been constituted to receive and take legal advice on questions related to publication.
The framework proposed by the Governing Body aims to strike an appropriate balance between the College’s desire for transparency on the one hand and the rights and interests of affected individuals on the other. I consider the proposed framework to be appropriate in principle but it was not entirely straightforward in its application to the matters covered in the report. I was therefore anticipating communication with the Receiving Panel and possible amendment before finalising the draft and understand that I am likely to be provided with comments shortly. There will also need to be consultation with affected individuals.
The Inquiry Report contains, amongst other things, recommendations as to action the College should take in order to produce and maintain a safe and inclusive environment. One of those recommendations is the establishment of a Sexual Misconduct Working Group which includes student and former student representatives. I have recommended that this working group commission a cultural survey, the results of which will inform a dedicated training programme. Although the working group will wish to take account of the published report’s findings there is no reason why that group should not be constituted before publication of the report. I have therefore suggested that the College extend invitations for membership to members of the current and former student community now so that the work I have recommended can start in the summer term.
Message from Trinity Hall: 5 May 2021
Following allegations made in an online news site in early 2020 Trinity Hall’s Governing Body agreed in March that year to commission an independent and external investigation into the College’s handling of all the allegations raised, including a complaint made by a student named “John” in the article. The Inquiry’s remit included a request to supply recommendations regarding amendments to College procedures where appropriate.
The Governing Body has formally voted to welcome the Report and to act on its findings and recommendations. With specific reference to one recommendation, the Governing Body has also voted in favour of establishing a Sexual Misconduct Working Group to include student and alumni representatives. The membership and remit of this group is currently being addressed.
The College remains thoroughly committed to the independent, external Inquiry and thanks everyone who has made contributions.
Statement for Trinity Hall Governing Body: 3 November 2020
The Governing Body will be aware that I have not produced the interim and discrete reports to which I referred in my 25 September update. On further reflection I decided that the issues I had in mind cannot be fully separated from other matters that the Inquiry Committee and Governing Body will have to consider. I will instead address all relevant issues in a composite report, which I aim to deliver to the Inquiry Committee before the end of term. I have been asked to provide a timeline for the remaining stage of the Inquiry and do so below, after providing some further information about the Inquiry to date.
The principal factor which has determined the overall timescale for the Inquiry has been the breadth of its Terms of Reference which not only require me to inquire into and investigate specific events but to invite contributions from the whole College community, past and present. As soon as arrangements for the conduct of the Inquiry had been put in place, I wrote inviting contributions. Knowing that this was a busy time in the academic calendar I asked for contributions within a month, by 30 June. I subsequently extended that deadline to 19 July. The extension did not hold up progress in any way since many people contacted me by the original 30 June deadline in any event and I started holding meetings well before then. In the meantime, I had also approached those who appeared to me to be central to the matters covered by the Tortoise article. As I said in my last update statement, I held meetings throughout the summer and have continued into September and October. I have received information from over 100 people, some of whom have provided me with considerable volumes of documentation (either unprompted or at my request). Some have provided detailed and careful written submissions. Others have spent time speaking to me, some for many hours. The matters about which some contributors have written and spoken to me have gone beyond the specific cases addressed in the Tortoise article but are all, in my judgment, properly considered to be “related to” those matters (and therefore within my Terms of Reference). Their submissions and the transcripts of meetings with me have required careful analysis.
Conducting an inquiry of this nature is an iterative process. Information provided by contributors often leads to requests for documents or to an approach to a named individual. Review of documents and conversations with individuals often raise further questions, to be addressed by further individuals or further document requests. The ability to move forward has therefore been dependent to some degree on the speed with which others respond to communications and requests. Some individuals have responded quickly and comprehensively to communications from me, others have taken time and required some prompting before responding. My Terms of Reference provide for me to make requests for documents to the Inquiry Committee, which I did at an early stage and have continued as further lines of inquiry have been identified. I have a number of outstanding requests for College documents.
As to the timeline moving forward, provided that I receive comprehensive responses to my outstanding requests this week and prompt responses to any follow-up questions/requests I remain hopeful that I will be able to report to the Inquiry Committee before the end of term. I anticipate having produced a near final draft Inquiry Report by mid-November, at which point I am likely to have a limited number of final questions for certain people. I plan to send these questions to the relevant people by email on Monday 16th November asking for responses by Monday 23rd and to finalise the report in the course of the week which follows. I have written to those who I am most likely to contact informing them of this timeframe.
I have raised with the Inquiry Committee some practical and logistical issues relating to reporting. I should say for completeness that the timescale I have set out above assumes that the Inquiry Committee is content with the arrangements I have proposed.
Finally, I should make it clear at this point that the Inquiry Report to which I am referring is the report to be delivered to the Inquiry Committee, and made available to members of the Governing Body subject to their signing confidentiality undertakings, pursuant to paragraph 6.1 of my Terms of Reference. Production of the Draft Report for Publication pursuant to paragraph 6.4 raises issues which go beyond those anticipated by my Terms of Reference. One important issue will be the extent to which (if at all) the College is prepared to publish the content of legal advice which was provided to it at particular points (legal advice forms an important part of the narrative). Another is the extent to which the College considers it appropriate to publish personal information about particular individuals who have either already been identified in the Tortoise article, or whose identities will be known to some readers. Decisions of principle in relation to these matters, which will substantially affect the form and content of the eventual Draft Report for Publication, will need to be taken by the Governing Body once it has considered the content of the Inquiry Report. I will include within the Inquiry Report recommendations as to the approach which the Governing Body might take to these issues.
Gemma White QC
3 November 2020
Message from Gemma White QC: 25 September 2020
I am writing with a further update on progress with the Trinity Hall inquiry and to provide information as to the likely timescale for the remainder of the inquiry and reporting.
Since my last update on 7 July I have received further written contributions, met and spoken with many more of you and have requested and received a considerable volume of documentation, both from the College and from individuals. I have now met over 60 people and am in the process of scheduling my remaining meetings with those who have asked/offered to meet me. I will be inviting a limited number of further contributions from people who have not contacted me but who I consider likely to have important evidence to contribute and am arranging a second round of meetings with a small number of people who have already spoken to me. I thank all of you who have provided me with evidence to date.
The number of contributions, volume of documentation and range of subject matter covered by contributors means that producing the Inquiry Report will take some time. I am confident that I will be in a position to provide the overall Inquiry Report to the Inquiry Committee before the end of the Michaelmas term but cannot provide a more precise date at this point.
I am aware that many, including me, had hoped that I would report sooner. I have, therefore, considered whether there are any aspects of the inquiry on which I can properly report earlier or on an interim basis. As things stand, I anticipate being in a position to produce a separate report in relation to a discrete aspect of the inquiry in October and an interim report making some procedural recommendations to the Governing Body in good time for it to be considered before the next Governing Body meeting on 3 November 2020.
Finally, I’m sure it will not be a surprise to anyone to hear that I have received a large amount of personal information, including some highly sensitive personal information, in the course of the inquiry so far. The balance between reporting to the Governing Body in a sufficiently detailed way and respecting the privacy of individuals concerned will be delicate. Considering how this balance should be struck in certain areas covered by the inquiry has led me to request an amendment to my terms of reference. The Inquiry Committee has agreed that my terms of reference should be amended to add the following sentence to paragraph 5.5: Ms White may also produce and provide to the Inquiry Committee documents containing analysis of the evidence which, in her judgment, is unsuitable for inclusion in the Inquiry Report. The effect of this amendment is that I can provide analysis to the Inquiry Committee which will not be shared with other members of the Governing Body apart from in the very limited circumstances provided for by paragraph 6.2. I would like to reassure anyone who has spoken to me in complete confidence or asked me to receive particular information in confidence that this amendment does not alter my agreement not to provide your information to the Inquiry Committee. It simply enables me to assist the Inquiry Committee with analysis of the large volume of transcripts and documents which will be provided to them in any event pursuant to paragraph 5.5. The amended terms of reference are available in full here.
With very best wishes,
Gemma White QC
Message from Gemma White QC: 7 July 2020
I am writing with an update on progress with the Trinity Hall inquiry and start by thanking all of those people who have contacted me so far. I am aware that the inquiry launch and my call for contributions came at a particularly busy time for the academic community. I have nevertheless received a significant number of carefully compiled written submissions and have met (remotely) with more than 20 contributors to date. In addition to hearing from those who have chosen to contact me I have been identifying and approaching particular individuals who appear to me to be likely to have relevant information to contribute. I am in the process of scheduling meetings throughout July and anticipate continuing to approach and meet with contributors in August. As Covid-19 related restrictions ease I will be conducting certain meetings in person (and am visiting the College on 9 July) but will continue to meet most contributors remotely. Remote meetings provide increased flexibility and I have found them to be an efficient and effective means of hearing from a wide range of people in different parts of the UK and beyond.
I have been contacted by a number of people who have hesitated before contributing because they are unsure about whether the matters they wish to contribute fall within the terms of reference for the inquiry. Others have been concerned that what they have to say may not be sufficiently significant. My approach is to encourage all such contributions as they form an important part of the overall picture and will assist me to identify any themes and patterns in the College’s approach. If you feel you may have relevant information but have not yet contributed please do get in touch with me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I know that some people are concerned about confidentiality and the dissemination/use of information which they may provide. I am very happy to answer any questions contributors may have and to consider how any concerns can be met. If you have not contributed to the inquiry but think you may wish to do so, please contact me by 19 July 2020.
I look forward to hearing from, and meeting with, more of you over the summer.
Gemma White QC
Inquiry Letter: 1 June 2020
We have this week sent the following letter from Gemma White QC to our college communities, inviting contributions to her Inquiry.
The College acknowledges that it has taken longer than anticipated to reach this point. The particular issues encountered included the care that was needed in defining the Terms of Reference; the complex privacy issues over the exchange with Ms White QC of some potentially highly confidential information; and, of course, the challenges of adjusting working methods as a result of Covid-19. The College remains thoroughly committed to the independent Inquiry and hopes that all those with relevant contributions will contact Ms White, as she asks in the letter.
Terms of Reference: 21 May 2020
Further to our statement dated 23 April 2020, Trinity Hall is publishing the terms of reference for the Inquiry being conducted by Gemma White QC, leading barrister of Blackstone Chambers.
Gemma White QC will publish communications shortly, which we expect to make available here.
Statement of 23 April 2020
Further to our statement dated 2 April 2020, we wish to update our community at Trinity Hall about the external Inquiry into the College’s handling of all the allegations raised, and matters referred to, in the Tortoise Media article of 18 February 2020, and into the complaint made by the student named ‘John’ in the article.
Gemma White QC, leading barrister of Blackstone Chambers, who has been appointed to conduct the Inquiry, has now begun the preliminary stages of her work, which include reading into the matter, considering documentation and identifying individuals she may wish to meet.
Dr William O’Reilly and The Revd Canon Dr Jeremy Morris have been granted leave of absence by the Governing Body in order to assist the College in the conduct of the Inquiry.
Notwithstanding the unprecedented turn of events brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the latest Government restrictions, this Inquiry remains a very high priority for the College.
A further update to our community will follow in due course.
Finally, the College Mental Health and Wellbeing Team continues to provide confidential online support for any students, staff, or Fellows affected by these matters
Edited 14/05/20 regarding the possible impact of COVID-19.
Statement of 2 April 2020
As promised in our statement dated 12 March 2020, we wish to update our community at Trinity Hall about the external Inquiry into the College’s handling of all the allegations raised, and matters referred to, in the Tortoise Media article of 18 February 2020, and into the complaint made by the student named ‘John’ in the article.
Since 12 March 2020 progress has been made advancing the formal details and related legal issues of the appointment of leading barrister Gemma White QC, of Blackstone Chambers to conduct the Inquiry. Ms White QC has a broad-based legal practice which includes professional discipline, discrimination and education. She has particular experience of running complex and confidential internal investigations and conducted Parliament’s independent inquiry into bullying and harassment of MPs’ parliamentary staff, which reported in July last year.
Ms White will now begin the preliminary stages of her work, which include reading into the matter, considering documentation and identifying individuals she may wish to meet. It will be appreciated that Ms White’s progress with the Inquiry, particularly in attending meetings with individuals, will inevitably be impacted by the restrictions imposed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we can assure our community that Ms White’s work is continuing as far as it is able.
Notwithstanding the unprecedented turn of events brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, this Inquiry remains a priority for the College and we will continue to report to our community about it.
A further update to our community will follow in 21 days.