How a sex pest slipped through the university net

The conviction of a lecturer for failing to disclose his criminal record has put universities back in the dock, writes Paul Lashmar
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The Independent Online

Serious flaws in the way universities and higher education colleges vet staff have been revealed by the case of lecturer Russell Griffiths, accused of raping a student. Griffiths, 36, was found not guilty of the rape last week, but has pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining a job by deception, after it was disclosed he lied to potential employers, hiding his two convictions for harassing women. He will be sentenced later.

Serious flaws in the way universities and higher education colleges vet staff have been revealed by the case of lecturer Russell Griffiths, accused of raping a student. Griffiths, 36, was found not guilty of the rape last week, but has pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining a job by deception, after it was disclosed he lied to potential employers, hiding his two convictions for harassing women. He will be sentenced later.

The University of Lincolnshire and Humberside had failed to discover Griffiths chequered background when he joined their staff in 1998. Students and staff have claimed the university's management was slow to heed warning signs that Griffiths was making inappropriate sexual approaches to women at the university. However, the university defended its record saying its vetting procedures were "thorough".

Griffiths is believed to have slept with at least six students and possibly many more in circumstances that were an abuse of his position of trust. He kept a diary which the judge would not allow to be used in evidence in his rape trial. Entitled the "The Sexual History of Russell Griffiths", it listed details and scores of 90 women with whom he claimed to have had sex.

Griffiths joined Lincolnshire and Humberside from the University of Derby where he also lied about his past. Griffiths' ability as a lecturer was questioned early in his contract by colleagues. The university says his contract was eventually terminated. Before the rape allegation came to light, Griffiths had already found another job at a further education college in Merseyside.

Verity Cole, a student leader at the university, says she will be leading a campaign to ensure that lecturers undergo the same rigorous checks for criminal histories as teachers and social workers. "Lecturers take on a pastoral role. They are not just educators, they are mentors as well. We are shocked Griffiths' record was not checked," she says.

Until this rape case, there had been little pressure on government by universities to allow them to improve their vetting systems. Nor had their been much pressure on universities by the Department of Education and Employment.

Russell Griffiths is the latest in a series of cases where universities have been deceived by job applicants. Earlier this year it was revealed in court that a 50-year-old woman had misled two universities into employing her as a highly paid tutor for four years although she had no qualifications. In court she pleaded guilty to separate fraud charges.

The universities' joint body, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals says: "Universities have a responsibility to their students and are very conscious of that. They do examine references carefully and if there are any unexplained gaps this is investigated. Publications by applicants are also examined as further proof of bona fides."

The University of Lincolnshire and Humberside defends its record over the Griffiths case saying that its thorough vetting procedures were strictly adhered to in the case of his recruitment. Griffiths lied on his application form about his criminal record. They say they obtained two written references both of which were exemplary and he had excellent academic qualifications. It adds: "What this case does show is the need for higher education institutions to be allowed to access those criminals records."

Dr Gary Slapper, director of law at the Open University, believes that students have a right to expect that their lecturers' qualifications and experience have been checked out. Otherwise, in cases where a student has suffered at the hands of a lecturer, he or she may well be able to sue if the university had been negligent.

From next year all employers will be able to double check the backgrounds of potential employees through the new Criminal Records Bureau.

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