The Censors of Christ Church have emailed students to dispute a recent Times article in which the newspaper claimed that Fellows “could be jailed” if they continue to pursue a dispute against their Dean, the Very Reverend Professor Martin Percy, a prolonged altercation which has involved “accusations of breaches of fiduciary duty, breakdown of trust and confidence, and sexual harassment.”
In the email to students, sent on Tuesday afternoon, the college argued that The Times’s article was “misleading”. A letter sent to Christ Church’s Governing Body by the Charity Commission, reported in The Times, informed trustees that by continuing their dispute against the Dean without adequate justification for their use of resources and funds, they could be personally “liable to a fine, up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.” The dispute has reportedly cost the college more than £2 million in legal fees to date, with some estimates rising as high as £5 million. Concerns have also been raised about the structure of the college as a charitable organisation. Christ Church currently has 62 trustees; guidance from charities insurers recommends that charities have “no more than twelve” trustees.
Christ Church’s communication to The Times, attached in an email to students, stated that the article was “misleading” because the mention of jail time “reflect[ed] the formal nature of the Commission’s correspondence”. The Times article may be read to suggest that Christ Church trustees in this particular case were close to being sanctioned. There is, at the time of publication, no evidence to suggest that sanctions are being strongly considered against the trustees of Christ Church.
The Times has also reported that the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the University are concerned that the “protracted and ongoing dispute” is harming the reputation of the whole university. The Chancellor and Vice Chancellor have requested that they be invited to the next meeting of the college’s Governing Body to discuss the matter.
Christ Church and the Revd. Percy were contacted for comment.