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Laura Perrins: The witch-hunt against Oxford Union President Ben Sullivan makes a mockery of British Values


After a five-week investigation, the Oxford Union President Ben Sullivan has been told by police that no further action will be taken against him in relation to the two allegations of rape and attempted rape.

It is not an understatement to say that during those five weeks Mr Sullivan was subjected to a ruthless witch-hunt headed by Sarah Pine, President for Women at Oxford University Student Union.

Ms Pine organised a boycott of the Oxford Union by speakers, and called for the President to ‘step aside’ while still under investigation. I blogged before on what a dangerous precedent this set for anyone accused of a serious crime.

Clearly now, Ms Pine should consider her own position and explain why she thought it necessary to subject Mr Sullivan to such a character annihilation. In fact, all the other worthies who participated in the boycott of the Union who include Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble, Norman Finkelstein, and none other than David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, should be considering issuing a apology to Mr Sullivan.

There were some sensible speakers. Jennifer Perry, CEO of the Digital Trust and author of the UK guidelines on digital risks, previously spoke of how she felt “threatened” and “intimidated” by the boycott organised by Ms Pine.

Ms Perry, who spoke at an event on May 27, titled ‘Stalking and Digital Abuse Awareness’, denounced the boycott campaign as “wholly inappropriate” and said that Ms Pine had “pressurised” her to withdraw. So much for innocent until proven guilty.

What this episode brings into stark light is just how meaningless all those ‘British values’ are that have been debated so eagerly in the last few weeks. Let’s start with fairness. Although a very difficult value to pin down, it must at least mean not prejudicing someone accused of a criminal offence.

But Ms Pine acted as judge, juror and executioner in this case, by pre-judging the allegation. She clearly has no idea of even a base line notion of fairness or indeed due process. It seems you do not have to be an Islamic extremist to be unfamiliar with this most basic principle.

Tolerance and equality also received short shrift – the stunning display of misandry towards Mr Sullivan demonstrates how malleable these concepts are. I have no doubt the ferocious pursuit of Mr Sullivan was because he was a man accused of rape. I doubt a woman accused of criminal offence would have received the same treatment.

Finally there is the rule of law. This, at least, is a value that has been respected, by the police and the CPS. The CPS decision not to charge Mr Sullivan comes at a time when there is increasing public pressure in increase the conviction rate for rape. Despite this no charge was brought.

We can all appreciate just how important the rule of law is. The evidence, in this case, was analysed by an impartial member of the justice system and found not to attain the level of there being a reasonable prospect of conviction. Indeed, the British Justice system is the only institution that comes out of this with its reputation intact.

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