Imperial College London leaders admit they bullied colleagues

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University’s president, Alice Gast, and finance chief apologise in email to staff and students after outcry

Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London.
Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London. Photograph: Jesse Grant/Getty Images
Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London. Photograph: Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Last modified on Mon 14 Dec 2020 09.49 EST

Two of Imperial College’s most senior executives have admitted they bullied colleagues, as the university bowed to pressure and published details of a report into the scandal.

Ahead of planned protests on campus this Wednesday and moves to bring pressure to bear on corporate partners of the university, its president, Alice Gast, and chief financial officer, Muir Sanderson, both sent out emails to students and staff in which they offered apologies for their conduct.

Both they and other senior figures were to undergo bullying and harassment training in line with the recommendations of a report undertaken by a senior QC who was called in to investigate complaints.

“I am very sorry that I bullied someone,” wrote Gast, Imperial’s self-described “CEO”, days after graffiti demanding her resignation appeared on walls outside of her residence and MPs, students and academic leaders pressed for the release of the report.

Graffiti outside Gast’s residence.
Graffiti outside Gast’s residence. Photograph: Handout

“Making difficult decisions, often under time pressure, is expected of a leader and I have fallen short.”

Sanderson said he had bullied two colleagues, adding: “The bullying was done during a three-week period earlier this year when I was under significant pressure.”

The move by Sanderson and Gast comes against the backdrop of a growing controversy which has threatened to taint Imperial College’s image at the end of a year in which experts based there have been closely involved in advising the UK government’s Covid-19 response. Another eagerly awaited vaccine is also being developed there.

The Guardian has been told by one person who gave evidence to the investigation that there were dozens of witnesses. Two of three original whistleblowers who made allegations are said to have left.

The report by Jane McNeill QC – who was called in by the chair of Imperial’s governing council, the Tesco non-executive chairman John Allan – led to a disciplinary hearing for both Gast and Sanderson, the university said on Monday. McNeill found that Gast had bullied one senior colleague while Sanderson was found to have bullied two colleagues between late February and mid-March.

It added that the details of the investigation and disciplinary process would remain confidential “to protect the privacy of those involved, including witnesses”.

But in a nod to the pressure that has been brought to bear on the institution, it published what the university said was a summary of 12 recommendations made to Allan.

The recommendations included that support be provided for the wellbeing of those accused, “specific support” for a complainant and that the college’s harassment, victimisation and bullying policy be reviewed. Gast and Sanderson should also be offered coaching, it was recommended.