court challenge | 

Galway lecturer says he was wrongfully suspended over false claims he had sex with student

Nigel Roberts said the complaint was made by a colleague who he says “bears me considerable ill-will”

Nigel Roberts, UCG podiatrist

University of Galway. Stock image.

Aodhan O'

A lecturer at the University of Galway claims he was wrongfully suspended following a “false accusation” that he engaged in sexual activity in his office with one of his female students.

Nigel Roberts brought a High Court challenge over the suspension in early February last year after he said a colleague with an adjoining office complained about having “heard noises of an intimate nature, suggestive of some form of sexual activity” in Mr Roberts’ office.

Mr Roberts is a lecturer at the School of Podiatric Medicine, which studies and trains professionals about conditions of the foot and lower limbs.

He denies ever having sexual relations with the student in question and says the investigation into the allegation is flawed and should be halted.

He said the complaint was made by a colleague who he says “bears me considerable ill-will”, has made other complaints against him and holds a significant “animus” towards him. Mr Roberts said “no sexual activity whatsoever occurred in my office” on the date in question, and the accusation was “an egregious libel”.

He said that the student, whom he said he does not know terribly well, had confirmed this to investigators appointed by the university.

University of Galway. Stock image.

However, he had been suspended for over a year, resulting in extremely significant damage to his reputation, career and health, he said.

Mr Roberts is seeking various orders against the university, including an injunction halting an ongoing investigation into the allegation and an order lifting his suspension.

The matter was mentioned with only his side represented before Mr Justice Brian O’Moore yesterday. The judge granted permission to serve short notice of the proceedings on the university. The case returns next week.

In a sworn statement, Mr Roberts, a 59-year-old married father of two from Roscahill, Co Galway, who has worked at the university since 2009, said that on January 20, 2022, a student had attended at his office.

He said she was extremely upset and visited his office, like many other students have done, for personal guidance and counselling related to a serious medical condition the student’s mother has.

He said because the student was extremely distressed, he placed a laminated sign on the door of his office indicating he was “in a private meeting”, and “was not to be disturbed”.

Mr Roberts said that the colleague who made the complaint also furnished him with audio recordings of the events of the day in question.

Those recordings, Mr Roberts says, do not in any way indicate any sexual activity, and no clear or discernible sound of any kind can be made out on them.

He said that a barrister had been appointed to investigate the allegation. An initial internal inquiry was stood down after it was found to have departed from the course of natural justice.

He said that the latest investigation being conducted by the lawyer was also flawed, on grounds including that the university had never properly articulated exactly what the allegation against him was.

Mr Roberts said the investigation could not proceed under the college’s staff code of conduct and that it was wrong of the university to maintain his suspension where no actual complainant existed.

The college had possession of documents from the student, who made it clear no sexual activity occurred, he said.

He added that the terms of reference of the ongoing investigation were not clear, and no clarity had been provided to him on how the proposed process was to proceed.

Under the terms of his suspension, he is not allowed to attend at the university.

He said his suspension had caused him immense and extremely damaging reputational damage.

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