Former Cabinet minister urges regulator to intervene in Oxford college case

Jonathan Aitken writes to Charity Commission saying it should look into Christ Church college's long-running legal battle with its dean, the Very Reverend Martyn Percy

Christ Church, Oxford University (Photograph: Tracy Packer/Contributor/Getty Images)
Christ Church, Oxford University (Photograph: Tracy Packer/Contributor/Getty Images)

 - This story has been corrected; see final paragraph

A former Conservative Cabinet minister has called on the Charity Commission to intervene after claiming that a college at the University of Oxford spent £1.6m in charitable funds on a legal dispute with its dean.

In a letter to Baroness Stowell, chair of the regulator, Jonathan Aitken says Christ Church college should be scrutinised by the commission after a long-running legal battle with its dean, the Very Reverend Martyn Percy.

The letter comes after a year-long case in which Percy claimed he was being forced out, whereas detractors at the college cited allegedly unreasonable behaviour, leading to an investigation.

An internal tribunal ruled in Percy’s favour and he returned to his post at the end of August.

Aitken, a former Conservative MP for Thanet East and also for Thanet South, who was Chief Secretary to the Treasury under John Major, says in his letter that the dispute has already cost the college £1.6m in charitable funds.

His letter adds that the case cost Percy £350,000, which Aitken suggests will have to be repaid to him by the college.

Aitken, who attended Christ Church and whose political career ended after his conviction for perjury in 1999, also calls for the full tribunal report to be made public, suggesting that some of the college’s governors are "fighting to have large parts of the tribunal’s report censored or redacted".

The letter says that the tribunal made "devastating criticisms" of members of the college’s governing body, and calls on the commission to "step in" because charitable funds were used to fight the case.

Aitken previously wrote to the commission on 25 April calling for it to intervene in the case.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "The public rightly expect charity trustees to use their money wisely and to be mindful of the special status charity holds.

"While the trustees in this case appear to have followed the charity’s rules, the large sums reportedly spent on the tribunal are of concern to us. We have therefore told the trustees to set out the actual costs involved and explain to us how they oversaw and controlled them."

A statement from Christ Church college said: "As required by Christ Church’s statutes, an internal tribunal was convened to consider a complaint raised against the dean in September 2018.

"Following a thorough investigation, the tribunal has decided that the charges are not upheld and that there is no cause to remove the dean as head of house.

"However, the tribunal made some criticism of the dean’s conduct and found that there was one breach of his fiduciary duty."

- The story orginally said Percy was cleared by an employment tribunal. 

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