Kevin O'Gorman: Early concerns over sex assault professor not pursued

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Kevin O'GormanImage source, CIARAN DONNELLY
Image caption,
Professor Kevin O'Gorman abused seven young men at two universities in Scotland

Concerns about an academic who sexually assaulted students over eight years were first raised three years before he was dismissed, a report has found.

Kevin O'Gorman had also been suspended from Strathclyde University when he was recruited by Heriot-Watt University, the report's author Morag Ross QC said.

The 46-year-old is understood to have told Heriot-Watt he was on sabbatical.

The review was commissioned by the university, which said it accepted the QC's recommendations in full.

O'Gorman, from Milngavie in East Dunbartonshire, was dismissed by the university following a complaint in 2017.

He was convicted in September 2019 of sexually assaulting seven young male students at Strathclyde University in Glasgow and Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh between 2006 and 2014.

Ms Ross made 10 recommendations to Heriot-Watt as part of her independent review.

They include a tightening up of HR processes around recruitment and how complaints are recorded and followed up.

The QC reported that the university had received an "informal" warning about O'Gorman around the time of his appointment.

"My understanding, having discussed matters with the then head of school, is that the information that was provided was vague, although it was expressed as a warning," she said.

"I also understand that the then head of school took advice at a senior level, and was advised that there was no reason to withdraw the offer that had been made."

She went on to say the recruitment of O'Gorman "had unfortunate results" but it was carried out by the university in an "appropriate way".

'Master manipulator'

O'Gorman began working at Heriot-Watt in 2012 as a professor of management in the School of Management and Languages. He later became head of international in the School of Social Sciences.

He was regarded as "creepy", a "master manipulator" and a "bully" by some, the report found.

The QC reported that concerns about O'Gorman's sexual conduct were raised as early as 2014 by three members of staff, but not pursued by the university as the students involved did not wish to complain directly.

"The fact that these concerns were raised appears to have been fairly common knowledge, amongst at least some academic staff within the school," Ms Ross said.

"These issues were raised separately with the HR department. I refer to them as 'complaints', although they were not dealt with in accordance with the university's formal processes. In two cases, the advice from the HR department was that it was for the student to complain."

Other findings in the report include:

  • Help and support offered by O'Gorman to students included gifts or money loans and "crossed the boundaries" of what was appropriate
  • A student was allowed to sit an exam later after they missed it and slept in "contrary to all normal practice"
  • Non-favoured students suffered "punishments" which "extended to physical contact"
  • The academic caused "serious upset" with misogynistic and "highly derogatory comments" to female members of staff

However, O'Gorman was "helpful and supportive" to more senior colleagues "making sure that he was present and ready and willing to ensure that things were done".

"In the criminal proceedings in the Sheriff Court, the procurator fiscal is reported as describing Dr O'Gorman as a 'master manipulator'. That is consistent with the view of very many of his former colleagues and students," Ms Ross said in the report.

Abusive behaviour

However, the report found that O'Gorman's manager had given him advice about his conduct on a number of occasions and had responded "swiftly and entirely appropriately" following the complaints in 2017.

Heriot-Watt said it welcomed the publication of the review.

The university's principal and vice-chancellor, Prof Richard Williams, said: "My thoughts are first and foremost with the students who were victims of Dr O'Gorman's abusive behaviour and the staff who in different ways have been deeply affected by this case.

"I want to thank Morag Ross QC for her rigorous examination of our systems and processes. I am pleased she has confirmed appropriate action was taken swiftly as soon as formal complaints were raised.

"Her recommendations, which we are now implementing in full, will ensure we have the culture and systems in place to identify and address any early warning signs of similar manipulation or abuse in future."

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