Benjamin Sullivan, the President of the Oxford Union

 

Ben Sullivan has resumed his position as president of the Oxford Union, despite being under investigation by the police over allegations of rape and attempted rape.

In his first public appearance since the arrest last Wednesday, Sullivan made a defiant speech at the Union yesterday in which he protested his innocence.

He said: "Unfortunately I am not able to give any detailed comment on what is now an ongoing police investigation.

"As you may be aware no charges have been brought against me and I have the utmost faith in the police and Crown Prosecution Service and the British legal system as a whole. I know that sooner or later the truth will prevail and justice will be served."

Sullivan has been released on bail until 18 June, while police investigate the allegations against him. He is expected to continue his presidential duties until then, hosting speakers including Baroness Lawrence and A C Grayling. However, he has faced growing calls to resign, with members alleging he cannot fulfil his obligations while under investigation.

In a motion posted on the Union’s notice board, 32 members have proposed to debate "This house has no confidence in the President, Ben Sullivan, Christ Church". The motion requires 30 signatories to be brought before the House. Aleksy Gaj, who proposed the motion, told student newspaper Cherwell: "I think he should step down due to his recent absences from the Union. I fear that his recent circumstances have left him unable to properly carry out his duties, and the fact that so many committee members have recently resigned stating a toxic atmosphere point towards a Union that has become increasingly chaotic and ungovernable under his watch."

After his arrest, Sullivan’s duties were taken over by the President-elect, Mayank Banerjee, who was declared acting president. But senior members of the Union said that Banerjee’s position was unconstitutional unless Sullivan resigned. Returning officer Joshua Atkinson, told one member that he believed the position was unconstitutional.

He said: "Within the constitution, vacancies only exist when an officer has died or resigned, so Mayank’s position as ‘acting president’ is in breach of Union rules."

The pressure on Sullivan to resign follows another tumultuous week for the Union. Treasurer Charles Malton, one of the society’s most senior members, resigned his post last Saturday. The Treasurer cited his previous decision to vote for the Union to pay Sullivan’s legal fees in a libel case.

In his resignation letter, Malton said: "Two weeks ago I voted in favour of the Union paying for Ben Sullivan’s legal fees, believing that in doing so I was protecting the Union against rumours rather than what have now transpired to be formal allegations. I later made a speech defending this decision. These decisions were taken in good faith, but I now recognize that they were misguided."

The Union had voted to pay £1,200 towards Sullivan’s legal costs as he sought to take action against a student publication, The Tab, over an article alleging he had been a member of a “drinking club”.

Malton’s resignation means the three most senior members of the Union changed over the course of one week. The previous weekend, librarian Kostas Chryssanthopoulos issued a resignation statement referring to the legal costs affair saying: "To serve under this President has been the biggest regret of my time in this society and I want nothing more to do with him."

Yet Conservative MP Nigel Evans has defended Sullivan. Evans, who was acquitted of rape charges last month, said in a Spectator article that he felt "pity" for Sullivan. He said: "As I came into Parliament last Thursday, I swung by the newspaper stand to take a brief look at the headlines. ‘Oxford Union president, 21, arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted rape,’ said one. My heart sank." Evans is currently campaigning to grant anonymity to rape suspects.

The Union is a debating society which was the training ground for politicians including Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Tony Benn, and was said by Harold Macmillan to be "the last bastion of free speech in the Western world". It frequently comes under fire from students – last summer, the society was rocked by allegations of misogynistic campaigning, and candidates’ computers being hacked.

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