St Hugh’s to investigate sexual harassment claim from 1980s

College News News

The governing body of St Hugh’s College has launched an independent enquiry into allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment by a now-deceased fellow.

Mel McGrath, a student of PPE at the college in the 1980s, accused her personal tutor Professor David Robertson of “doing a Weinstein on me” in a piece for website ‘The Pool’.

Robertson, who first became a fellow of the college in 1979, died in August last year.

The enquiry will be chaired by Alison Levitt QC, who was involved with the enquiry into the crimes of Jimmy Saville.

McGrath wrote: “David, who was my tutor, held tutorials in his flat on college grounds and had an uncanny knack for scheduling a shower, at whatever time of day, just before I arrived. He’d open the door – as if innocently – dressed in his bathrobe and, one time, in a tiny towel.

“For the next hour I would have to undergo the humiliating experience of reading my essay, on which I had laboured hard and with serious intent, while David sat opposite, half-naked and manspreading, often smelling of alcohol and sipping from a mug of what was never tea or coffee.

“In the midst of my valiant efforts to get a grip on the topic of the week, David might proffer a helpful comment, such as why he preferred it when I curled my hair. Once he dropped a useful note in my pigeonhole to say he couldn’t help noticing I hadn’t got a boyfriend.”

McGrath was critical of St Hugh’s lack of response to the situation, writing that his behaviour was an “open secret” and “if the college authorities hadn’t heard the rumours of his misconduct they couldn’t have been listening very hard.”

She said that the “enduring legacy” of Robertson’s behaviour for her was “shame, the sense of being played for a fool and a corroding cynicism towards men. For a long time I thought of myself as one of those long-caged animals so demoralised that they dare not emerge from behind bars even when the door is opened and they are free to leave.”

Levitt has been commissioned by the college to “report on the adequacy and appropriateness of the College’s responses and any action taken in respect of such allegations or circumstances, with any recommendations for action.”

Robertson was also a fellow of Oxford’s Blackfriars Hall. After his death, St Hugh’s wrote that he was “much loved and greatly missed”.