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Trinity Hall safeguarding report published

16 September 2022

Canon Jeremy Morris defends himself against the accusation that he mishandled an accusation of sexual assault

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Trinity Hall, Cambridge

Trinity Hall, Cambridge

CANON Jeremy Morris has defended himself against the accusation that he mishandled an accusation of sexual assault made against a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, when he was Master and Head of House (News, 28 February 2020). He said he believed he was following legal advice, and had the support of his colleagues.

Canon Morris, who is now National Adviser for Ecumenical Relations for the Church of England, resigned as Master of Trinity Hall shortly before his term in office was due to end (News, 3 September 2021), saying at the time that he was “fully confident that any ongoing process by the college following the conclusions of the investigation would determine that I had done nothing wrong”.

The college commissioned an independent investigation by Gemma White QC, after an online news site, Tortoise, published in February 2020 a critical account of how various senior members of Trinity Hall had handled sexual-abuse accusations, including one of a sexual assault by a Fellow.

Ms White supplied a detailed report to the college’s governing body, and was asked to produce a second report for publication, removing much of the personal detail. A section in the published report, released on Thursday, relates long negotiations with the governing body over what might be legally published, and what showed the college in a worse or better light.

The published report contains many recommendations for improvements in student welfare and changes in the college culture. She reports at one point: “I was provided with examples of what were described as ‘casually sexist comments’ and ‘everyday sexism’.”

Concerning Canon Morris, Ms White criticises delays and a lack of proactivity following the allegations of sexual assault made by a student, “John”. She quotes a colleague saying of Canon Morris: “I have found he approaches challenges with a spirit of consensus and collaboration, an admirable character trait in a leader of any institution.” To this she remarks: “My overall assessment was that the Master did approach the issues with which the inquiry was concerned in a spirit of ‘consensus and collaboration’,” and notes that he responded to her inquiry in the same spirit.

“However, seeking consensus and collaboration is not always appropriate,” she goes on. The Master’s responsibilities sometimes required “firm management action and, at times, taking decisions with which others might not agree”.

In his response, issued on Thursday of last week, Canon Morris writes: “I realize that my handling of the allegation made by ‘John’ was not as thorough as it ought to have been, and for the distress he has suffered as a result of my decisions I am very sorry.”

He explains: “I believed I was following the legal advice I had been given, had strong support for my actions from all my senior colleagues bar one, and was not at any time contacted by ‘John’ himself to say he was dissatisfied with the outcome of the police investigation until November 2019, whereupon I invited him to contact me.”

At the root of Canon Morris’s defence is the severe limitation on the authority of the Master in college affairs given by its statutes. (In one part of her report, Ms White criticises Canon Morris for assuming responsibilities in one of the cases that were not properly his.)

Canon Morris writes: “It is the Tutor, in the Cambridge system, who carries direct pastoral responsibility for a student; it is therefore surprising to me that I am the only one, as Head of House with no direct pastoral responsibility for individual students, to have been singled out for criticism specifically for a lack of consideration for student welfare.”

Other colleagues named in the Tortoise report have escaped censure, and remain on decision-making bodies in the college. Canon Morris was never given the opportunity to present his case to the governing body before his resignation.

A statement by the governing body on Thursday lists several changes made to college structures and processes. It says: “The Governing Body is committed to taking action in response to Ms White QC’s findings and recommendations in order to promote a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all our students, operational staff, and Fellows.”

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