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Retired teacher 'manhandled' by student at Birmingham Uni

DISAPPOINTED: Tony Kelly speaking during an event at the House of Commons last year

RETIRED TEACHER Tony Kelly is making a formal complaint to the University of Birmingham about its reaction to claims that he was ‘manhandled’ by a student who was acting as a steward during the annual carol service.

Kelly, who completed an MA in Socio-legal studies at the university in 1991, says the young student ‘chose to literally grab me as if he was a bouncer at a nightclub’ as he marshalled visitors arriving for the service in the Great Hall last December.

In a letter to the university’s Vice Chancellor Professor Sir David Eastwood, Kelly, who had to stand throughout the service due to the large numbers who attended, said:

“I was in total shock at such a heavy-handed display.

“It was uncalled for and throughout I remained composed despite the extreme and unwarranted provocation.

“All the stewards need to be told in crystal clear language that under no circumstances should they ever be touching visitors and invading their space. It is unprofessional, unbecoming and unsatisfactory.”

Kelly told The Voice:

“The student took hold of me and said: ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ I had to say to him: ‘Let go of me.’ My cousin, who I invited to the service, also witnessed his behaviour and was astounded.”

From the outset, Kelly made it clear that all he wanted was an apology from the student concerned in order for him ‘to learn from the error of his ways.’

But in correspondence with Professor Paul Jackson, who chairs the Chaplaincy Committee, and who was the senior officer in charge of the event, the university mistakenly interpreted his complaint that he wanted the student ‘sent down.’

In response, Kelly, who is also a retired equality and diversity officer, explained to Jackson that he did not ‘under any circumstances’ want that to happen – he simply wanted the student to apologise.

Since Kelly’s complaint, the university claims it has carried out its own internal investigation and in an email to him, concluded: ‘Unfortunately no-one recalls seeing any incident as you describe it.’

Jackson wrote to Kelly:

“I apologise if you interpreted this in the way you describe, but none of the witnesses stated that anything was any more than an attempt to usher guests who did not want to move out of the hall.”

He added that the popular carol service had become ‘a victim of its own success’ and the university was now considering using trained security officers in future rather than relying on student volunteers who were members of the faith societies. He said that some volunteers ‘were put in very stressful situations by some guests at the service this year.’

Kelly, an award-winning community champion volunteer for the national charity Diabetes UK, said he felt deeply insulted by the university’s decision to sweep the matter under the carpet due to ‘lack of evidence.’

DENIALS: The University of Birmingham’s Great Hall, where the annual carol service is held

He wrote to Jackson:

“As the victim, I find your attached letter worse than what the student did, as it questions my integrity and honesty as a human being. Did you seriously expect the student to openly admit to what he had done?”

Kelly told The Voice:

“I was tempted to let the whole matter drop, but my cousin who witnessed it all, encouraged me to contact The Voice and expose the high-handed manner in which the university has dealt with this.

“The clear inference is that I made all this up, and as for throwing in a line about not wanting to move out of the hall, that is a total red herring, as that was never raised as an issue because the main door was opened to let people in.

“At no point did they ever ask to interview my cousin as part of their investigation. She was literally no more than two or three feet away from me. Anyone doing a thorough investigation should interview all parties concerned to make sure it is balanced and impartial.”

Kelly added that in his original letter of complaint he explained that he, as a black person going to a carol service, felt uneasy at the way the young white student embarrassed and belittled him in such a public arena with no justification at all.

An emailed response from the Vice Chancellor to Kelly last month, said:

“As you know, the matter has now been fully investigated by Professor Paul Jackson, who is the senior officer responsible. As he indicated in his response to your complaint, the University takes allegations of this kind very seriously indeed.

“However, in order to initiate such serious disciplinary action against the student you have alleged carried out this behaviour the University must have sufficient evidence.

“Having made extensive inquiries, he has been unable to find any such independent corroborative evidence. In these circumstances the University now regards this matter as closed.”

A University spokesperson said:

“Our University is a community of 150 nations and we are proud to be situated in a vibrant multi-cultural city. We actively work with a range of groups to bring people together and ensure that our University is a place where diversity is celebrated and everyone plays their part in creating a vibrant and welcoming community. We therefore take any allegations of discrimination or inappropriate behaviour by staff or students extremely seriously.

“As soon as the University was made aware of the allegations it commenced an investigation. That investigation has now been completed and despite widespread enquiries of a substantial number of people who were in attendance at this large scale, public event, the University was unable to establish any independent corroborating evidence that substantiated the serious allegations made. The University has however offered an apology as the experience fell short of what Mr Kelly expected.”

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