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Other disciplinary case - PI021708

University of Essex

The student was resident in University-managed accommodation and lived in a flat that accommodated 13 first year students. University staff had found ash and cigarette butts in the kitchen of the students’ flat. The flat’s residents had previously been sent warning letters following two similar incidents.

The later incident was investigated by the University in accordance with its disciplinary procedures. During its investigations, the University considered photographs of ash and cigarette butts in the kitchen; a report from the accommodation house keeping services; and minutes of a meeting which took place between six of the flat’s residents (the remaining residents failed to attend that meeting and a subsequent meeting that was arranged to discuss the incident). The University found that no information had been provided by any resident of the flat to suggest who was responsible. Based on the evidence available at the time, the University found all residents jointly culpable.

The student appealed stating that he did not know who the culprit was, and did not smoke himself. The appeal was rejected by the University on the basis that the nature and level of the fine imposed (£25) was reasonable and in accordance with accepted practice and precedent.

We found the student’s complaint Justified. We reviewed the Regulations which set out that students were responsible for their own actions, and the actions of invited guests. We determined that the University’s investigation was insufficiently thorough, and the evidence considered during the investigation did not support a conclusion, on balance, that the student, or his invited guests, had breached the University’s No Smoking Policy.

We recommended that the University should quash the decision that the student had breached the University’s No Smoking Policy and should refund the £25 fine. We also recommended that the University reviews its policies and procedures regarding its No Smoking Policy and related disciplinary procedures, with a view to ensuring procedural fairness for students while addressing any safety concerns.