Sex assault probe defended

March 27, 1998

St Austell College this week defended its decision to investigate internally allegations of serious sexual assault, despite the secretary of state's acknowledgement that the matter was "mismanaged".

Allegations were made by a member of staff against union branch secretary Keith Tregenna in 1993. Mr Tregenna was summarily dismissed after governors heard evidence, but he was reinstated after an appeal.

The complainant had lied about her qualifications on her job application and later resigned.

A report on how the college handled the case was demanded by former secretary of state for education Gillian Shephard in 1996 after complaints from St Austell MP Matthew Taylor that a college could not act as "judge and jury" in a potentially criminal matter.

But the report, which was completed last year, has been withheld for more than a year, as the college is challenging the details on the grounds of "misrepresentation and inaccuracy".

But the key finding, that the college "mismanaged" the complaints, has been accepted by secretary of state David Blunkett.

This week Mr Tregenna, who retired last year, said he was bound by confidentiality rules and could not comment. But his brother, Peter Tregenna, said: "This whole bloody saga clearly shows that a college governing body should never be left to deal with this sort of issue."

St Austell principal Bill Hill refused to discuss report details. "But in terms of general principles," he said. "We were obliged as employers to follow up the complaints. We could not, in all sense of responsibility, ignore them."

He said the secretary of state, who will have the final say over the publication of the report, had a serious dilemma over guidance for colleges. "If colleges are told not to act on such complaints, they could in due course be subject to action for negligence," he said.

"Going to the police against the wishes of a complainant in such a case could also be prejudicial to the interests of women," he said. "The whole thing is a minefield."

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