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Gary – University discrimination

Gary contacted our helpline after being told by the university at which he was studying that, as a result of his criminal conviction, they would be permanently excluding him.

Gary explained that he had been studying Civil Engineering when on the way home from a friend’s house one night, he was assaulted by a stranger in the street. Out of fear and instinct, Gary fought back and the stranger ran away only to go immediately to the local police station and make a complaint against Gary who was later arrested for GBH.

The police took a statement from Gary and following a full investigation, accepted that he had been acting in self-defence although they concluded that he had used excessive force. In Court, he was given a suspended sentence. He informed the university about the incident and was told that he would no longer be able to study due to the risk he posed to other students, staff and service users.

The university had given Gary the opportunity to appeal and Gary approached us to ask whether we would be able to write a letter of support.

We wrote to the university setting out our views on the importance of education and training as a way of giving individuals a realistic chance of desisting from crime. We quoted a previous Chief Executive of Unlock who said ‘education liberated him from a life of crime’.

Our letter set out the circumstances around Gary’s conviction and explained that although the law allowed an individual to use reasonable force to defend themselves from an attack, psychiatrists have gone on record stating their belief that people seeking to defend themselves from attack act with a combination of fear and anger which is not taken into account in Court.

We confirmed to the university that Gary’s conviction wouldn’t prevent him from meeting the requirements of any relevant professional body and stated our belief that upon successful completion of his degree, Gary would be able to secure suitable employment.

In addition to writing the letter, we suggested that Gary should contact other organisations such as the Longford Trust, the Prison Reform Trust and the Howard League and ask if they would also write letters of support. The Longford Trust agreed to do so.

Gary contacted us immediately after the appeal hearing and said:


I got back in! And your letter was very persuasive. In fact without support from you guys and the rest of the sector, I wouldn’t have been reinstated. I’m still struggling in a few areas but there’s a scrap of a chance of me getting on and succeeding now so I will!



This case highlights how universities can sometimes make decisions to exclude students without fully assessing the risk they pose and the relevancy of their conviction to the course they are studying.


Notes about this case study

This case study relates to Unlock’s casework.

Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.


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