College clams up on 'unfair' disciplinary system

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If King's College London had had its way Austen Donnellan would almost certainly have been sent down. Had Mr Donnellan not insisted that the police investigate the rape allegation, a college investigation could have cost him his degree.

College authorities were criticised yesterday by staff and students who called for a review of disciplinary procedures. Each college has its own procedures for complaints about students and King's was unable to explain in what circumstances police would be involved.

The kindest critics believe the college was hamstrung by the undertaking of confidentiality to the female student, who did not want the police involved. They argue that without confidentiality women will not come forward with complaints of sexual harassment and assault.

Fiercer critics claim that Mr Donnellan was to be sacrificed. No academic wanted to be named but one said: 'The internal tribunal is obviously terribly flawed. The overwhelming concern seemed to be the besmirching of King's reputation, not the fairness to the boy.'

The college refused to give any explanation, issuing a four-paragraph statement which expressed its desire 'to get back as soon as possible to normal order' and boasted of its welfare services and academic standards. The statement claimed it would be 'irresponsible' to comment but gave no assurances that it would respond after deliberation.

Judge Geoffrey Grigson implicitly criticised the complaints system. He was told by Earl Russell, Liberal peer and Mr Donnellan's tutor, that he was unhappy with the college's behaviour.

'They were asking Austen to consider pleading guilty to a lesser charge and offering an apology to (the woman).' Lord Russell said that when he asked the committee chairman what the lesser charge would be, he was told: 'I don't know. Any lesser charge.' The woman would not withdraw her complaint unless Mr Donnellan was removed.

Peter Upton, the college's solicitor, who would have assumed the role of 'prosecutor', said in court that hearsay evidence would have been relied upon.

Simon Rix, president of London University Students' Union, which counts King's 9,000 students among 70,000 members, said he expected the complaints procedure to be reviewed. 'Date rape does exist . . . but it is not on for the college authorities to have disciplinary procedures that have low standards of justice.'

Jayne Aldridge, coordinator of the No Means No campaign for London students, agreed that the complaints procedure had failed, but said it was difficult to envisage a system which offered confidentiality and did not have such flaws.