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Martyn Percy: Oxford settled Christ Church row to save millions

Martyn Percy: Oxford settled Christ Church row to save millions

By Andrew Billen.
February 12, 2022

The Oxford college that agreed to pay its dean nearly £1.2 million to quit had been told that continuing its four-year dispute with him could have cost a further £6.8 million.

Last Friday, at an emergency meeting, Christ Church settled its dispute with the Very Rev Martyn Percy. The deal -- dropping all further legal and internal proceedings -- was signed off by a large majority of dons.

Some, however, damned it as "morally repugnant" on the grounds it would preclude a woman from pursuing a claim that Percy had stroked her hair in the college cathedral 16 months ago.

The governing body, under scrutiny from the Charity Commission over its use of charitable funds and facing pressure from the university's chancellor Lord Patten of Barnes, had little choice, however, when the implications of continuing were spelt out. The academics were told the dispute could have continued for three more years with mounting costs and big payouts to the dean.

A tribunal into the hair-stroking claim would have cost up to £780,000 in lawyers' fees and £115,200 for the hearing. A "medical board" to determine Percy's mental competence to stay in office would have cost up to £270,000.

Percy was also pursuing an employment tribunal claim. Fighting it would have cost up to £815,000. Percy might have received £500,000 had he won.

More money would go on continuing data protection, privacy, defamation, general governance, legal advice and PR. These fees were about £100,000 a month. The body was made aware of the "reputational damage" if there were no settlement, although the settlement itself would also have "considerable adverse PR consequences". Dons were also warned of "strong indications" that the commission would use its powers if the college did not settle.

The college was also wary that students would object to the idea of "paying off an alleged sex offender". Percy's allies are angered by the term. Last May, Dame Sarah Asplin, investigating as the president of Church of England tribunals, concluded that the dean's reported conduct "was not overtly sexual". She did not proceed to a disciplinary tribunal. The police had previously declined to pursue the matter.

The woman accepted an undisclosed payment from the college, reluctantly accepting it was "my word against his". She said in a statement: "I know what I experienced and I want to ensure no other student or member of staff has to go through the ordeal that I have."

Percy's supporters are pushing for a leaving service for him in Christ Church Cathedral. This seems unlikely.

Christ Church said: "The dean does not officially leave until April 26. Until then the dean has agreed to withdraw from his duties including attendance at events. We do not comment on costs."


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