'Harry Potter' star speaks out over bullying allegations

Emma Watson says she has taken break from studies to concentrate on her acting career

The Harry Potter actress Emma Watson tried this weekend to scotch claims that bullying about her role as the bookworm Hermione Granger had led her to take time out from university.

The 21-year-old Brit, who is studying at Brown University in the US, announced in March that she would be taking a semester off to focus on acting. However, media reports last month speculated that her decision was prompted by bullying from fellow students at the Ivy League institution.

Watson took to her website on Friday to deny the allegations. "I have never been bullied in my life and certainly never at Brown... I feel the need to say this because accusing Brown students of something as serious as bullying, and this causing me to leave, seems beyond unfair," she wrote.

US reports suggested that when Watson correctly answered questions in class, other students would heckle her by shouting, "Three points for Gryffindor!", a reference to the house at J K Rowling's fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to which the actress's character, Hermione, belongs. But Watson said such incidents had never happened.

Staff and students at Brown, in Rhode Island, also denied that she had been bullied. Visiting professor Bianca Dahl said: "There was an awareness of her, but in a protective way.

One graduate, Allison Zimmer, said there was "a little bit of an aura" around Watson at the beginning, but that soon faded.

A spokeswoman for the actress had previously said Watson would transfer to another university this autumn to take a course Brown did not offer, but that she might return to Brown for her final year. However, the pixie-haired star, who enrolled at Brown in 2009 to study liberal arts, has since urged people not to speculate as to what she might be doing in September. She said she had not yet decided what to do, including whether or not to spend the third year of her studies abroad.

In March, the actress announced she was taking "a bit of time off" to finish her work on Harry Potter, the final instalment of which is due out in July, and to focus on other professional projects.

"As you know, I love Brown and I love studying, pretty much more than anything, but recently I've had so much to juggle that being a student and fulfilling my other commitments has become a little impossible," she wrote on her website at the time.

She added that she would still be working towards her degree but that it would take her "a semester or two longer".

As well as promoting the summer blockbuster Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Watson will soon start work in Pittsburgh on The Perks of Being a Wallflower, an adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's coming-of-age novel.