Current Affairs

Former Oxford Visiting Professor revealed as “sex-pest” amid reports he sexually harassed students

Former Australian High Court Justice and Oxford Visiting Professor John Dyson Heydon reportedly harassed a number of female students, a two-year long Sydney Morning Herald investigation has revealed.

An inquiry by the Australian High Court also found that “Sex-pest” Heydon sexually harassed six female legal associates. The Oxford Blue has learned that he resigned his Honorary Fellowship at Keble College last month.

The investigation, conducted on behalf of the High Court of Australia, found that Heydon had sexually harassed six associates while he was a member of the Australian High Court, and that he indecently assaulted several other women, including another judge, and the former head of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Law Society. Dyson Heydon served as a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 2003 until his retirement in 2013. 

The Sydney Morning Herald revealed further allegations about the former judge, in which several women alleged that they had been sexually harassed by Heydon during his tenure as a Visiting Professor at Oxford. Heydon was appointed Visiting Professor to the Oxford Law Faculty commencing in the academic year 2013–2014. 

Heydon was allegedly nicknamed “Dirty Dyson” and “Handsy Heydon” by Oxford students during his tenure as a Visiting Professor. One former student said that it “seemed to be the moniker he had widely,” and the Herald also reported that Heydon’s predatory behaviour was an “open secret” in legal circles. 

Heydon’s tenure at Oxford had barely started when the reported sexual harassment began. Elizabeth Houghton, then studying for an MPhil at Exeter College, spoke to the Herald about Heydon’s predatory behaviour. She said: “In the months after he left Oxford I discovered he was notorious for this kind of behaviour.”

Another of Heydon’s postgraduate students made a complaint to the University about his harassment of her in the Bodleian Library. “In the months after he left Oxford I discovered he was notorious for this kind of behaviour,” Ms Houghton said. “I was disappointed in the fact that people can behave like that and get away with it for so long.”

Another of Heydon’s students at Oxford said; “People would warn me about not shutting the door behind me and not to have tutes alone with him,” and that she “was always being warned by men too, not just women, who seemed to know about it.” 

After his three-year tenure as a Visiting Professor, “sex-pest” Heydon’s contract was not renewed, and he left under a dark cloud of mounting allegations against him. Two Sydney journalists, Jacqueline Maley and Kate McClymont, obtained heavily redacted documents under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act from Oxford University, which alluded to the incidents at Oxford, but the reason for Heydon’s dismissal was not apparent. Dean of the Oxford Law Faculty, Anne Davis, wrote in an email dated 1st June, 2016, that “the Personnel Committee has already taken a decision that Dyson Heydon should not be renewed. We have written to tell him this.”

Keble College told The Blue in an email dated 3rd August, 2020: “We take all such issues extremely seriously. Dyson Heydon resigned his honorary fellowship last month and had he not done so the Governing Body would have considered a recommendation to remove it.”

Heydon has categorically denied the claims through his lawyers, Speed and Stracey. He did not renew his licence to practice law with the NSW Bar Association upon its expiry on 30 June.

Oxford University has said: “Visiting Professors are normally appointed for three year terms. The University does not comment on individual appointments.”

Lois Heslop is the co-founder of The Oxford Blue and was Editor-in-Chief for HT20 and TT20. She is in her second year studying Physics at Lady Margaret Hall, and hails from South London. Her other interests include classical music and opera, and she is currently a choral scholar.