Warwick University's head of press accused of putting victim 'on trial' during rape-chat scandal

In a BBC documentary, Peter Dunn, director of press and media relations at the University of Warwick, is alleged to have added to the distress of female students who complained about rape threats by subjecting them to an "accusatory" and intimidating interrogation.

Peter Dunn, director of press and media relations, University of Warwick
Peter Dunn, director of press and media relations, University of Warwick

The claims were made in a documentary, 'The Warwick Uni Rape Chat Scandal', first shown on BBC Three last week.

It is a further damaging blow to the reputation of the university, which was already under fire for the way it dealt with a group of male students who shared violent fantasies about raping their female counterparts.

Conflict of interest

Dunn was appointed to examine complaints made by two of the students who were the subject of rape threats on the Facebook group chat in which 11 men took part. 


The documentary highlighted the apparent conflict of interest that Dunn – who is responsible for protecting the reputation of the university – was also asked to lead the investigation into the complaints last year.

Traumatic

It revealed how Dunn reduced one victim to tears after interrogating her about her sex life and making her go through distressing details of the violent rape threats made against her.


Anna (not her real name) said: "He went through it one by one and asked me if I had any sexual relations with any of them."

She added: "The things that he was talking me through and asking me to repeat were very, very, very violent rape threats against me and my friends."

The student said: "He was very accusatory from the beginning in the way that he was questioning us, and we were told straight away that our stories didn't line up. I was very scared. I remember coming out of that meeting crying."

She recalled: "It started to feel like I was under investigation and that I was being put on trial for coming forward like this."

In his report of the interview, obtained by the BBC, Dunn cast doubt on Anna’s credibility as a witness.


Although the university had claimed that Dunn’s press role had been delegated during the investigation, he informed the victims he was planning to release a media statement about their case and asked for their feedback.

Anna commented: "It was a very surreal experience for us to be receiving draft press statements and investigatory notes from the same person."

Protest

The documentary comes just months after hundreds of students and staff protested against the university’s handling of the case.


Students and staff protesting at the University of Warwick in February this year


The 11 men involved in the Facebook group chat were temporarily suspended and Dunn’s investigation resulted in five having action taken against them. One was given a lifetime campus ban, two were banned for 10 years, subsequently reduced to one year, and two were excluded for one year.

Dunn has spent the past 30 years working at the university, where he started out as press and media relations manager in 1989, before being promoted to head of comms in 2000. He has been in his current role for the past five years.

Barrister Daniel Sokol, speaking in the documentary, commented: "You can imagine a situation where the press officer thinks: 'Well, I think the just thing to do would be to do this. But if I put my press officer hat on that won't look good in terms of their perception and the reputation of the university.'" 

He added: "In order to avoid that risk, my view is that it would have been prudent and wise to pick somebody who didn't have these two potentially conflicting hats."

No comment

Dunn did not respond to requests from PRWeek for comment. 

The university also declined to answer questions, but issued a statement: "The University has commissioned an independent review of disciplinary processes and a community review of values and behaviours which are due to report in the summer."

It added: "We are unable to comment further until those reviews are concluded other than to say that we continue to support the role of the investigating officer for this case."


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