Universities are paying private detectives up to £10,000 to investigate students accused of sexual assault, amid mounting pressure from activists to tackle campus “rape culture”.
The London School of Economics (LSE) spent £21,000 on Intersol Global, a company with ex-police officers, to probe two reports of sexual misconduct.
The University of Sheffield paid £57,000 over the past four years to the firm, which considers evidence and conducts interviews to guide campus disciplinary proceedings.
Others are bringing in law firms, with De Montfort in Leicester and Edinburgh Napier paying up to £10,000 for a single investigation, according to freedom of information requests by The Tab.
Experts say university chiefs have been forced to outsource probes following the high-profile University of Warwick rape group chat scandal, and the Everyone’s Invited website compiling testimonies of alleged abuse on 86 campuses in recent months.
Protest signs are seen on railings at James Allen's Girls' School in Dulwich, London
Credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images Europe
Sexual violence reports at UK universities have more than doubled in four years, with around 18 cases now reported every week.
Meanwhile, Oxford, Durham, Newcastle and Manchester are among the universities to hire staff tasked solely with investigating sexual assault claims.
It follows criticism from campaigners and lawyers that young people are being left in limbo for months.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, expected more universities to follow suit.
“There have been some particularly high-profile cases where things appear to have not gone well,” he said.
“To a certain degree, they are responding to the spotlight being shone on them but I think that is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Shannett Thompson, a partner at Kingsley Napley specialising in sexual misconduct cases, added: “Where academics or other university staff dabble in investigations untrained in how to do so can be dangerous for all involved.
“There is not only the potential for criticism of how an inquiry was conducted and the risk of an incorrect conclusion but also contamination of any police process if proper checks and balances are not followed.”
Edinburgh Napier University said it paid the external firm to ensure appropriate independent expertise in the handling of a sensitive case. LSE said it takes reports of sexual violence extremely seriously.
The University of Sheffield said the private investigators it pays are specially trained to ensure students reporting abuse are offered the best possible support.