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Group chat – update and further information

On this page, you will find further information and questions and answers to a number of aspects to the group chat case and the University’s response to this.

We also provide links to the statements made by the University on this matter, and updates on key developments and support and advice available to members of the University community.

Key developments

Update on next steps from Rachel Sandby-Thomas, Registrar
Wednesday 13 February 2019

Message from the Vice-Chancellor to the Warwick community
Monday 4 February 2019

We are committed to ensuring the safety of our community. I have today spoken to the two young men concerned and confirm that neither of them will be returning to the University. I am continuing to listen to the views of students, staff and all members of our community here at Warwick and support them so that we can learn from this experience.”

Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor

Questions and Answers

A number of questions have been raised regarding the University’s investigation and student disciplinary processes – including at the University’s all-staff meeting held on 13 February. Where we can, we provide answers below and we will update these as far as we can in response to any further queries.

There are three important strands of activity the University is undertaking which we would like to share. They are as follows, all of which are elaborated upon throughout the Q&A page that follows:

  1. A reiteration of our commitment to providing dedicated support for staff and students who have been affected by the group chat incident, as well as meeting the wellbeing needs of all the Warwick community;
  2. An external, independent review into our student disciplinary and appeals process;
  3. A consultation within the University on how we can translate our values of openness, diversity, respect and trust into a statement of what is and is not acceptable behaviour and, also, how we can encourage those positive behaviours.
Overview

1. What is the University’s position on this matter?

We are deeply sorry about the distress that has been caused, first and foremost to the victims of the events surrounding the group chat.

Many, inside and outside the University, have called into question our processes for dealing with the kind of abhorrent behaviour we saw in the group chat. Consequently, the University’s governing Council, including its Students' Union representatives, agreed unanimously on 6 February to set up a review of our student disciplinary and appeals process. The review will report to Council and Senate and its report will be published publicly.

2. What will you do differently to handle cases of sexual misconduct in the future?

The University Council – our governing body, including its Students' Union representatives, agreed unanimously on 6 February to set up a review of our student disciplinary and appeals process. The review will report to Council and Senate and its report will be published publicly. The Council have asked Dr Sharon Persaud, a solicitor with over 25 years of experience, to lead the independent review.

We will be consulting widely within the university on how we can translate our values of openness, diversity, respect and trust, as set out in our strategy, in to a full statement or code of what is and is not acceptable behaviour and also, how we can encourage those positive behaviours. This work will be overseen by a joint group of Senate and Council, chaired by Viki Cooke, Vice-Chair of Council, on which the Students' Union will be represented.

We will seek to work in partnership with the Students’ Union to more proactively promote and live our values, ensuring each and every member of the Warwick community lives, studies and works in an environment of dignity and respect.

We are making additional, specific wellbeing resource available for all those affected by the recent events who would like support. This support is free, confidential, and open to all students and staff. Provision includes an independent psychologist who will hold sessions with individuals who would prefer to speak to a clinician external to the University. More details on how to access this support will be available shortly.

We are consulting with the Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC) to make the position of campus Independent Sexual Violence Advisor permanent.

We are also currently reviewing our mental health provision with the aim of bringing down waiting times to a level that our staff and students deserve. We will accelerate that review with urgency.

Finally, we will review how we communicated throughout with the victims and with the wider Warwick community. We need to see what lessons can be learned and future-proof this learning so we can cope with the increased complexity of challenging cases such as sexual misconduct. We believe it is of utmost importance that staff and students have confidence in our processes, especially those who are living as victims and survivors.

Wellbeing and support

3. What are you doing to provide support for staff and students around this issue?

We are making additional, specific wellbeing resource available for all those affected by the recent events who would like support. This support is free, confidential, and open to all students and staff. Provision includes an independent psychologist who will hold sessions with individuals who would prefer to speak to a clinician external to the University. More details on how to access this support will be available shortly.

We are also consulting with the Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC) to make the position of campus Independent Sexual Violence Advisor permanent.

We are also currently reviewing our mental health provision with the aim of bringing down waiting times to a level that our students deserve. We will accelerate that review with urgency.

The University has welfare and support mechanisms in place for all students and staff to foster a safe and respectful University community. This includes our Wellbeing Support Services and other advice and support from teams like the Counselling Service and the Independent Sexual Violence Advisor. There is full information on support available for people affected by these issues at: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/counselling/informationpages/sexual_violence.

4. Who can access this support?

This support is open to all members of the Warwick student and staff community. It is free of charge and confidential.

The sessions are an opportunity for anyone who would like to talk about their feelings about recent events to help them to process things – for example people who have read the group chat messages on social media and found them upsetting, or people who have had to respond to enquiries and found this distressing. Students and staff may be experiencing a range of emotions that are making it feel difficult for them to get on with their day to day life, study or work.

If students and staff feel that it may be difficult to talk with colleagues within the Wellbeing Support Services team, the independent clinician sessions are available to help individuals, through conversation with an external professional not connected to the University.

5. How are you supporting female students involved in this case?

Support has been offered to the complainants and others affected at the time, and that continues to be available. We are reaching out specifically to the complainants through our Students’ Union and our Wellbeing Support Services team.

The University has welfare and support mechanisms in place for those affected by the group chat and to help all students and staff to foster a safe and respectful University community. This includes our Wellbeing Support Services and other advice and support from teams like the Counselling Service and the Independent Sexual Violence Advisor. There is full information on support available for people affected by these issues at: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/counselling/informationpages/sexual_violence.

6. What are you doing to provide more robust wellbeing support in the long-term?

In addition to reviewing our mental health provision with the aim of bringing down waiting times to a level that our staff and students deserve, we are placing additional counselling and wellbeing support in place to support particular groups of students who may be in need of additional support.

We will also be extending the work we began three years ago, when the University agreed a closer working relationship with the Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC) in the aftermath of the Zellick Report. This included having an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor on campus. We are currently in talks with CRASAC about making this a permanent position and understand this is a development which would be welcomed by the Warwick community.

7. What are you doing to ensure respect amongst your community on campus?

When all new students arrive at the University, the Vice-Chancellor and Students’ Union President speak to them about the University’s values – outlining that the University and Students’ Union aspire to involve students in the best experience possible whilst studying here, in an environment where the ability to voice ideas is a core value, and in which staff and students should operate with mutual respect and with the confidence that equality of opportunity is accessible to all.

The Warwick Community Respect Programme is also designed to help students understand what is expected of them as a member of the Warwick community – delivered through our Moodle online learning platform.

These programmes support our Dignity at Warwick Policy which tackles harassment and bullying by emphasising positive behaviour and the responsibilities that we all have to challenge inappropriate behaviour when we see it. Dignity at Warwick is applicable all staff and students at the University.

We will also be consulting widely within the university on how we can translate our values of openness, diversity, respect and trust, as set out in our strategy, into a full statement or code of what is and is not acceptable behaviour and, also, how we can encourage those positive behaviours. This work will be overseen by a joint group of Senate and Council, chaired by Viki Cooke, Vice-Chair of Council, on which the Students' Union will be represented.

Disciplinary Review

8. Will you review your disciplinary processes?

The Council has asked Dr Sharon Persaud, a solicitor with over 25 years of experience, to lead the independent review. She was a partner at Bindman & Partners, practising in criminal defence, with a particular focus on cases which engaged wider issues of civil liberties and the rights of those disadvantaged in the criminal justice system. She previously worked as a specialist appeals lawyer in the Criminal Appeal Office at the Court of Appeal and between 2013-2018, as a publicly-appointed Commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission. She also served as an independent peer reviewer for the Legal Services Commission and has lectured on criminal law, evidence and procedure.

As an independent reviewer Dr Persaud will be free to decide how best to conduct the review. We expect she will want to look at the written records, to speak to those who were involved in the process and to hear views more widely. We will be asking her both to produce a “lessons learnt” and to make recommendations for our future student disciplinary processes and procedures. Those recommendations will go to the Senate and Council, on which the Students' Union is represented. We envisage there will then be a final consultation on the recommendations before final decisions are taken.

9. What are your current disciplinary processes?

Allegations of serious student misconduct are heard by a Discipline Committee comprising senior academic staff and student officers. The hearings are chaired by an academic member of the University’s Executive Board appointed by the Vice-Chancellor with a membership of three members of academic staff and two Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers who are full members of the committee appointed by the President of the Students’ Union. The Academic Members of the Committee are appointed by the Vice-Chancellor from a panel of 20 academics appointed by the University Senate on the recommendation of the Faculty Boards.

Discipline Committee Members have a good understanding of the University’s regulatory framework, the relevant discipline regulations and associated policies on equality, diversity and student wellbeing. Committee members are able to apply good analytical skills, objectivity and sound judgement to reach impartial decisions based on the merits of each case. To this end guidance and specialist briefing sessions are provided to ensure that committee members are able to carry out their duties effectively and impartially.

The decision of a Discipline Committee can only be appealed on the grounds of (a) Material irregularity or failure of procedure, (b) Evidence of prejudice or bias, (c) Relevant evidence has come to light which could not be presented at the original hearing, (d) In light of new evidence the penalty imposed was excessive. If it is agreed by the Provost that there is a prima facia case for appeal, an Appeal Committee is called to consider the case.

The structure of the Appeal Committee is the same as for a Discipline Committee and comprises three members of Academic Staff and two Student Sabbatical Officers appointed by the President of the Students’ Union, who are full members of the committee. Appeal Committees are chaired by an Academic Member of the University’s Executive Board appointed by the Vice-Chancellor. Nobody involved in the original Discipline Hearing may take part in the Appeal Hearing other than to give evidence.

Regulation 23 sets out the full version of the disciplinary process.

However, we understand that many, inside and outside the university, have called into question our processes for dealing with the kind of abhorrent behaviour we saw in the group chat. Consequently, the Council, including its Students' Union representatives, agreed unanimously on 6th February to set up a review of our student disciplinary and appeals process.

You can find our full statement on the independent review here.

10. Who is leading the independent review?

Dr Sharon Persaud, a solicitor with over 25 years of experience, will lead the independent review. She was a partner at Bindman & Partners, practising in criminal defence, with a particular focus on cases which engaged wider issues of civil liberties and the rights of those disadvantaged in the criminal justice system. She previously worked as a specialist appeals lawyer in the Criminal Appeal Office at the Court of Appeal and, between 2013-2018, as a publicly-appointed Commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission. She also served as an independent peer reviewer for the Legal Services Commission and has lectured on criminal law, evidence and procedure.

11. What will the review involve?

As an independent reviewer Dr Persaud will be free to decide how best to conduct the review. The outcomes should include a ‘lessons learnt’ and recommendations for our future student disciplinary processes and procedures. Those recommendations will go to the University’s Senate and Council for consideration, on which the Students' Union is represented. Recommendations will be made publicly available, and there is commitment to reviewing these every five years to ensure the University’s disciplinary processes reflect any changing societal and legal needs.

12. How will University staff and students be involved?

We understand that our world is becoming increasingly complex, not least because of social media, and that we need to look at how our processes are able to adapt to this new context. As part of this, the University will convene a consultation to look at how we communicated throughout the group chat incident, both with the victims and with the wider Warwick community. We need to see what lessons can be learned and future proof this learning so it can cope with this increased complexity. We believe it is of utmost importance that staff and students have confidence in our processes, especially those who are living as victims and survivors.

In parallel with the independent review led by Dr Persaud, we will be consulting widely within the university on how we can translate our values of openness, diversity, respect and trust, as set out in our strategy, in to a full statement or code of what is and is not acceptable behaviour and, also, how we can encourage those positive behaviours.

This work will be overseen by a joint group of Senate and Council, chaired by Viki Cooke, Vice Chair of Council, on which the Students' Union will be represented. More details will be published when they are available.

13. How soon will the review and consultation be completed?

We hope both elements will report their findings within three months. This will be dependent on the logistics around arranging consultation meetings, allowing people time to give their views. We would like to conclude the final consultation on the review’s recommendations by the end of the 2018/19 academic year.

Investigation and disciplinary processes

14. Am I safe from harassment and bullying on campus?

The issues relating to threatening statements made in a group chat were an exceptional set of circumstances and we are all working very hard to ensure that we remain a safe and welcoming community for all who come to Warwick.

The University has many welfare and support mechanisms in place for students to foster a safe and respectful University community. This includes provision such as our Wellbeing Support Services and other advice and support from teams like the Counselling Service, Campus Security and Residential Life – teams who also actively foster a safe campus environment for all students, staff and visitors through their day to day (and night) work.

We also work in partnership with the Students’ Union to support the promotion of tolerance and respect, including campaigns on consent and equality.

15. Do you care more about males than females at Warwick?

No. Within the Warwick community, we are committed to an environment in which all staff and students should operate with mutual respect and with the confidence that equality of opportunity is accessible to all.

We remain clear that the behaviour of the individuals who have been found culpable as a result of the investigation into the group chat, and in the subsequent disciplinary processes, is both abhorrent and unacceptable in any circumstance.

16. Why did the University permit an appeal?

The University has not changed its view that the behaviour of the individuals who have been found culpable as a result of the investigation into the group chat, and in the subsequent disciplinary processes, is both abhorrent and unacceptable in any circumstance.

In this case, the first disciplinary panel made a decision about the case in front of them and came to a set of judgements. Two of those individuals convicted went on to appeal against their sentence, and brought new evidence. A second panel was constituted to hear that evidence. It came to a judgement that the sentences – not the judgement of guilt – should be aligned with the penalties imposed on the other students.

In these cases, the appeals panel gave each case thorough and detailed consideration. In neither case was the appeal about the issue of culpability (this was not challenged and the students concerned accepted that aspect of the original decision). Rather, the appeals panel focused instead on the scale of the penalties. As a result of those hearings two adjustments were made.

Privacy considerations mean that we are not able to disclose the specific details on which the decisions were made; however the panel reached the view that there were clear reasons to require that the punishments imposed should be comparable across all of those individuals sanctioned by the major disciplinary process.

17. What is the punishment for the male students?

The two male students concerned will not be returning to the University.

Penalties were issued under the University’s disciplinary processes according to each student’s involvement in the case. These include:

  • for the individuals subject to the University’s major disciplinary processes, being prohibited from living on the University campus for a fixed period of time;
  • being required to complete courses relevant to the offence committed, and confirming that they are no longer at risk of breaching the Dignity at Warwick policy;
  • It was also recommended the Students’ Union should not allow the students to become members of clubs or societies in future.
  1. Who made up the disciplinary and appeal panels?

In line with University procedures, the disciplinary panel was chaired by a female member of staff, three members of academic staff and two Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers.

The appeals panel was chaired by a female member of staff, three members of academic staff and two Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers.

Additional Wellbeing Support Services

Wellbeing Support Services (WSS) is offering twilight drop in sessions dedicated to students and staff affected by the events surrounding the group chat. See the message from our chair of council.

These will be a listening post for people who feel impacted and would like to talk to a wellbeing professional in confidence. Sessions will held at Senate House, 5-7pm on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and will be facilitated by managers within WSS. No appointment is needed.

You can find out more about the Wellbeing support available on their webpages

Statements made by the University

Wednesday 6 February

Message from our Chair of Council

Hear from David Normington on the recent investigation and subsequent student disciplinary action.

Friday 1 February

Open letter from VC Stuart Croft on group chat

Read an open letter from Stuart Croft on the recent investigation and subsequent student disciplinary action.

Thursday 31 January 2019

Statement by University of Warwick Provost Professor Christine Ennew on the recent investigation and subsequent student disciplinary action