CW: Child abuse

Wadham College has announced its new warden will be Robert Hannigan, former Director of GCHQ.

Mr Hannigan studied Classics at Wadham and was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the College in 2015. He was director of GCHQ from 2014-2017. He also worked for Tony Blair during the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Mr Hannigan has previously had a long career in both government and the private sector. Mr Hannigan was appointed into the Northern Ireland Office in 2000, becoming an important official in the Peace Process. He was the only official singled out for praise in Tony Blair’s biography, with Mr Blair saying: “Robert was absolutely pivotal to getting the job done.” Mr Hannigan apparently suggested a key compromise during 2007 talks between Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley, suggesting the table should be diamond shaped so they could sit both facing each other and side by side.

Mr Hannigan was subsequently appointed to become the Prime Minister’s Security Advisor in 2007, where he is described as having had “a particular focus on Islamist terrorism“. He then became Director-General of Defence and Intelligence with the Foreign Office in 2010. From there he was promoted to Director of GCHQ in 2014. He was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 2012 for “services to UK national security”.

Mr Hannigan was also listed in 2013 as Britain’s third most influential Catholic by the Tablet, which noted he had trained as a priest at a seminary in London.

Mr Hannigan replaces Ken Macdonald QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, who recently became President of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

In a statement on Wadham College’s website, Mr Hannigan said: “I am delighted to have been asked to follow Ken Macdonald as Warden of Wadham. I want to pay tribute to his outstanding tenure, and especially his practical commitment to widening access to education.

Wadham’s radical tradition had a great impact on my own career and showed me that a truly diverse and multi-disciplinary community is key to achieving excellence. I am proud of what the College and Oxford have done in recent years to extend the opportunity of studying here to all, but there is clearly much further to go”.

Mr Macdonald said of the appointment: “I’m delighted to welcome Robert as Wadham’s next Warden. He brings a wealth of experience and achievement at the highest levels and a commitment to the College’s values that will stand our community in good stead in the years to come. I’m sure he will be as happy at Wadham as I have been”.

Wadham’s statement notes: “During his career in Whitehall Robert had a long track record of broadening access and diversity, notably in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. He has championed diversity in cyber security and engineering, including launching the annual girls only national schools’ cyber competition and the first female only cyber summer schools”.

However, Mr Hannigan may prove a controversial choice. In 2019 a Mail on Sunday investigation claimed Mr Hannigan stepped down early from his GCHQ role after links to a pedophile priest were exposed.

The article claims in 2013 Mr Hannigan provided a character reference for “a close family friend” during a child abuse trial. Father Edmund Higgins was on trial for possessing 174 child abuse images.

The Mail on Sunday claims the reference helped ensure Father Higgins received only an eight month suspended sentence.

However, Father Higgins went on to reoffend. He became implicated in a National Crime Agency investigation into online chatrooms hosting child abuse images. The Mail on Sunday claims Downing Street was alerted in early 2017 that Mr Hannigan was linked to Father Higgins. It goes on to claim Mr Hannigan agreed to resign and give family reasons to avoid dragging GCHQ into the scandal.

Father Higgins was subsequently imprisoned for 31 months in June 2018 after what the NCA described as “horrendous” charges of child abuse. In 2019 Mr Hannigan told the Mail on Sunday “Mr Higgins had been a close family friend for 20 years. After he pleaded guilty to child sexual imagery offences in 2013, we submitted a character reference on our knowledge of him to the court in good faith. His subsequent criminal actions appalled us and have shown that our judgment was completely wrong.”

Mr Hannigan was also criticised for an article he wrote in 2014 as Director of GCHQ. He called on the “the largest US technology companies” to co-operate more with intelligence agencies. At the time Labour Party MP Tom Watson commented: “I hope they do not confuse the use of public propaganda through social media by extremists with the use of the covert communications. It is illogical to say that because Isis use Twitter, all our metadata should be collected without warrant.”

Image Credits: Wikimedia

This article was updated at 12:40 and 14:15 to include more information about Robert Hannigan.