Martyn Percy and the “hair-stroking” charge
In October 2020 Martyn Percy was alleged to have stroked the hair of a member of staff (later identified as Ms Alannah Jeune) at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, while complimenting her on her decision to auction some of it for charity. The incident, which took place in a public space in the Cathedral, was said to have lasted approximately ten seconds. Dr Percy, while agreeing a conversation took place, denied touching Ms Jeune’s hair.
Ms Jeune initially said she did not feel “hugely upset” by what had happened. Ms Jeune also said that initially she did not want to report the matter to the police.
Over time, this incident was handled by a number of senior members of College – which had been in long-running dispute with Dr Percy. The allegation became one of sexual harassment, then one of safeguarding; and was: a) reported to the police; b) became the subject of a clergy disciplinary measure (CDM) against Dr Percy (reported by the College); c) became the cause of a second hearing designed to remove Dr Percy; d) became the subject of other litigation.
None of those courses of action came to anything. The police, having examined the evidence, decided to take no further action. The College hearing and other litigation ended when the College settled all outstanding claims against Dr Percy, paying him a substantial sum. The College separately paid Ms Jeune a sum. There was no mediation between Dr Percy and Ms Jeune, and no settlement between them.
That left the CDM. The case was investigated by an experienced barrister and was considered by the President of Tribunals, Dame Sarah Asplin, a Court of Appeal Judge.
In May 2021, Dame Sarah ruled that it would be disproportionate for the Church to take any further action. She was unable to determine whether Ms Jeune’s or Dr Percy’s version of the encounter was more credible.
The key passage of her judgment was as follows;
Although I do not intend to trivialise Ms X’s allegations in any way, it seems to me that it would not be proportionate to refer this matter to a tribunal. The incident itself was extremely short, the alleged hair stroking was even shorter and the language and the conduct as a whole was not overtly sexual. If this is put together with: the fact that Ms X accepts that she was not upset in any way; stated originally that she was not perturbed (albeit she told the police that she was concerned what would happen next); the incident took place in a room which was or could be accessed by others; and Miss X stated that she would have accepted an apology if the Dean had admitted what she says took place, it seems to me that it is entirely disproportionate that this matter should be referred to a tribunal.
Over time, Ms Jeune has, in interviews and on social media, changed the language she uses to describe the alleged incident. She now claims she was “sexually assaulted”. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, she claimed the incident had led to her losing her job and her housing and that it had cost her her PhD.
Ms Jeune continues to be in employment at Christ Church and may also be given housing by them. The termination of any other employment she had was nothing to do with Dr Percy. She was not, and is not, a member of the University of Oxford. She was studying for a PhD at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her PhD thesis was due for submission in March 2020 – some six months before the alleged incident in Oxford. The termination of her degree by her university in New Zealand had nothing to do with Dr Percy.