Very Reviled: Dons damn the dean in Christ Church email scandal

Damning email correspondence between dons attacking the Dean of Christ Church has emerged this week.

In the emails, Christ Church academics called dean The Very Reverend Professor Martin Percy a “little Hitler”, a “manipulative little turd” with a “personality disorder”, and in one exchange a don asked “Does anyone know any good poisoners?”.

The emails, which have been covered up by the college until now, reveal one colleague imagining “the Inspector Morse episode we could make when his wrinkly withered little body” is found in the Thames. Elsewhere, Dr Percy is named ‘thick’ and ‘nasty’. ‘Please, please… get rid of him,’ comments one academic. Another agrees, saying: ‘Nasty and stupid… He’s got to go.’

These emails are the latest development in the three-year feud between Dr Percy, the college and its academics and they are expected to feature in a forthcoming employment tribunal case. Dr Percy was suspended as dean in November 2018, facing 27 charges of improper conduct, but was acquitted in an 11-day internal tribunal by retired High Court judge Sir Andrew Smith. The college has refused to reimburse Dr Percy of his £400,000 legal fees from the failed suspension. The dean is attempting to claim the money at an employment tribunal.

It is understood that the college has already spent £2 million of charitable funds on the failed attempt to suspend the dean.

The dean had called for a review of remuneration over how his pay was set after Christ Church appointed a new development director whose was thought to be paid more. The dean is both one of the highest earning officials of the Church of England, due to the college’s requirement to have a member of the clergy as the head of the college, but one of the lowest paid heads of house.

Some of the emails are quoted in a letter from former Cabinet Minister and Christ Church alumnus Jonathan Aitken to Oxford University chancellor Lord Patten.

In the letter, Mr Aitken calls the emails ‘staggeringly offensive’, says he understands they will be publicly aired at the tribunal and warns they will cause the university ‘severe reputational damage’. 

Mr Aitken urges Lord Patten to try to end the dispute, and describes the tribunal case as an ‘explosive train wreck’ and a ‘public relations disaster’. Mr Aitken warns Lord Patten: “You will immediately recognise the potential for volcanic eruptions in the national media as I now provide you with one or two trailers from this horror movie… These are not merely embarrassing, they are awful. It is little wonder that [Dr Percy’s opponents] are seeking to prevent their… colleagues from seeing the nature of the battle in which they were engaged.”

At the preliminary hearing yesterday in Amersham, the parties were told that because of the complexities of the case and the shortage of judges there will not be a full hearing until 2021.

Christ Church responded to our request for comment. The Governing Body said: “We can confirm that we are in receipt of two Employment Tribunal claims from the Dean of Christ Church. We are all too conscious that what began as a request for a sizeable salary increase by the Dean has led, over the last two years, to significantly-heightened tensions between him and an overwhelming majority of Governing Body. Personal relationships have undoubtedly suffered, and we all regret this deeply. 

“We take our responsibilities towards all members of our community very seriously, and believe that we have acted in the best interests of Christ Church, including its students and staff.

“We recognise the anguish that the Dean has previously expressed regarding the level of his remuneration, and his concerns are reflected in the latest papers lodged with the Employment Tribunal. The Governing Body maintains that the Dean’s total remuneration package, which amounts to a significant six-figure sum, is fair and generous, and follows guidance provided by the Charity Commission.

“As well as a base salary, which has increased twice since 2017, he and his family are entitled to the rent-free use of the 12-bedroom Deanery.

“While the specific matters being raised by the Dean should be left to the Employment Tribunal to consider, the Governing Body remains committed to achieving a satisfactory resolution. Christ Church expects members to show respect towards one another at all times, but equally we acknowledge that individuals are entitled to their personal opinions.

“Frustrations conveyed about – but not to – the Dean, exacerbated by the dispute over his pay, were in the past expressed in some private emails. However, mediation with the Dean, funded by Christ Church, resumed in November 2019 and is now ongoing. We very much hope that we can find a way forward through this process, and avoid considerable further cost.”

In reference to the emails, the college refers to last year’s tribunal: “while private email exchanges amongst close colleagues could sometimes be couched in colourful language, such correspondence should not always be taken literally. He also criticised the tone and content of the Dean’s own correspondence.”

In response to whether any action will be taken, they said, “neither Sir Andrew Smith, nor the Charity Commission, have suggested or asked Christ Church to take any action in respect to any individuals mentioned in the Judgment. Senior College Officers have nevertheless reiterated to all trustees the importance of maintaining a professional tone in all email correspondence.”

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