Durham academic leads independent report into Sussex University assault case

By Ryan Gould

A British university has admitted that its response to a student who was violently assaulted by a staff lecturer was “inadequate” following an independent inquiry led by a Durham University academic.

The investigation, fronted by Professor Nicole Westmarland, found that Sussex University failed in its duty of care to 24-year-old former postgraduate student Allison Smith, who was knocked out, stamped on, and had salt poured into her eyes and ears by a media and communications lecturer at the university.

The report criticised the institution for its decision to allow Dr Lee Salter to continue teaching for a further ten months following his arrest, as the University only considered disciplinary action after pressure from national media and the public.

Professor Westmarland criticised the university’s human resources department for prioritising the protection of the attacker and its reputation over student safety.

The investigation also detailed how “reports of additional cases of violence, abuse, and harassment [Professor Westmarland] received during [her] investigations may be seen to indicate a structural problem about the respect and dignity accorded to victims of violence, abuse and harassment.

“The difficulties related to speaking out about violence against University staff have been underestimated and the power dynamics not properly understood and/or considered,” the report reads.

Vice-Chancellor, Adam Tickell, has since apologised on behalf of Sussex University for what he called an “inadequate” response to the incident.

Professor Westmarland told The Independent that the “case should act as a warning to other universities to get their houses in order not just in relation to staff as well as students but also in relation to partner violence generally — many are treating sexual violence as a standalone problem unconnected to other forms of violence, abuse and harassment.”

Dr Lee Salter was convicted of assault by beating and causing criminal damage to property at Brighton Magistrates’ Court on 13 July 2016.

He was given a 22-week suspended sentence, fined £2,765, and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.

Photograph: Durham University

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