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Safeguarding at university – the next chapter

Adrian Barr Smith Verita Consultancy Ltd
Chairman

Adrian Barr-Smith

Published 2 September 2019 More about Adrian

Read our previous blog “Safeguarding at University – who’s next” here.

Kevin O’Gorman was latterly Professor of Management and Business History and Head of Business Management in the School of Languages and Management at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Prior to taking that post in 2012 he had occupied the position of associate dean in the business school at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. He was recently convicted of 14 sexual offences against 8 young men in the course of his work at these universities over an 11 year period. O’Gorman had denied all the charges against him but now awaits sentencing at Edinburgh sheriff court.

The investigation into O’Gorman’s conduct was prompted by senior management at Heriot-Watt dismissing him and making a report to police immediately following complaints being raised.  The police spokesman commented that “had it not been for the decisive action taken by staff at Heriot-Watt University and the willingness of those he abused to assist with our investigation, then [he] would have continued to offend……”

So Heriot-Watt University has been praised for the prompt and decisive action which was taken. The position of the previous employer, Strathclyde University, is somewhat different. It has emerged that, following receipt of a complaint to the vice dean of the business school in 2011, Strathclyde suspended O’Gorman and initiated a probe into his behaviour. However, five months later, the University allegedly gave him a reference for the purposes of his move to Heriot-Watt University and he left with the financial benefit of a ‘golden handshake’.

The Principal of Strathclyde University has now announced that an independent Inquiry has been set up into how the University handled the complaint by its former student and about the subsequent investigation. Craig Sandison QC has been appointed by Strathclyde University to conduct this Inquiry which is intended to establish “what the University knew, what it ought to have known and what should have been in place to expose such wrongdoing”. The Principal stated “Our first concern is to reach out to those students and alumni affected and offer our support.” He acknowledged that there were “questions [the University] must ask about [its] processes and procedures” and committed the University to “following any recommendations which are made”.

The last word – but only at this juncture – belonged to one of the victims who waived his right to anonymity and alleged that the Strathclyde University “management were aware what he was like. He was notorious with all students”. If this victim’s account is to be believed, O’Gorman’s colleagues must have been either asleep at the wheel or reluctant to rock the boat.

It is important not to pre-empt the findings of this Inquiry. Very significant questions are being asked of the University and the process which was followed in 2011.  On the face of it, crimes were being perpetrated by an employee of the University against students to whom a duty of care was owed, on its doorstep, which were repeated over an extended period of time. The narrative has evoked echoes of the unfortunate practice, on the part of the Catholic Church, of responding by moving an another parish.

In O’Gorman’s case, the first hurdle was overcome. Eventually a complainant felt sufficiently confident to approach the authorities at the University. One is left wondering what messages were later relayed back to that complainant at the conclusion of the probe by Strathclyde University? The contrast with the prompt actions which appear to have been taken by the authorities at Heriot-Watt University is a stark one.

Adrian Barr-Smith

Our goal is to support clients with their strategic transformation agendas to become better, fairer and safer service providers.  If you would like more information on how Verita can help your organisation please call 020 7494 5670 or email [email protected]

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