A PhD student at Glasgow University is facing a police investigation and possible dismissal from his course after guaranteeing confidentiality to men confessing to the sexual abuse of children.
Richard Yuill, a final-year researcher in the department of sociology and anthropology, is examining what he calls "man-boy relationships". In letters to potential interviewees, he says: "I would like to assure anyone that any information and identities will be anonymous and treated sensitively."
The incidents outlined in leaked interview transcripts were previously unknown to the police. Two of his interviewees admit they brought foreign boys back to the UK and had sex with them over some years.
The affair is a major embarrassment for the university, which was alerted last year to doubts about the suitability of the PhD project it was funding.
It was shown material to suggest Yuill's research may have been misdirected. In an advert for interview subjects he placed in Koinos, a magazine used by paedophiles, he stated that his aim was "to challenge the theoretical and empirical assumption of abuse in man-boy relationships".
In an email Yuill sent to Tom O'Carroll, a founder member of the reviled Paedophile Information Exchange, he stated: "It will take time to convince the gatekeepers of my bona fide status as researcher (ha ha!)."
The university suspended Yuill's computer access while it conducted a low-key investigation before clearing him of wrongdoing. His supervisor, David Evans, was vociferous in defending his charge, saying that nothing was taboo in academia.
But in granting confidentiality to men who have sexually abused children, Yuill may have gone too far. The university has now seen transcripts outlining a number of disturbing cases.
A Glasgow University spokeswoman said: "This material is now in the hands of senior university staff and a thorough examination is in progress."
Pressed on whether the university could in any circumstances justify a researcher withholding evidence of serious crimes to the police, she said:
"Given the serious nature of the situation, it is anticipated our examination could take up to four weeks. In the meantime, we intend to co-operate fully with the police."
The paedophile unit at Strathclyde Police is now examining the transcripts.
Yuill, who lives in Bearsden, on the outskirts of Glasgow, is likely to be asked to hand over research material and interview tapes.
He was not available for comment and his supervisor refused to discuss the latest developments.
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