The Telegraph, 21st October 2017
Co-bylined with Harry Yorke
A medical student who was “too clever for jail” is believed to have exploited a loophole in the Oxford University disciplinary process to avoid expulsion, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.
Lavinia Woodward, a 24-year-old Christ Church student who stabbed her ex-boyfriend in the leg, has been accused of attempting to “set the terms” on whether she will be allowed to return to Oxford.
It has now emerged that Ms Woodward, who was handed a 10-month jail sentence suspended for eighteen months, has now voluntarily suspended her studies for the duration of her sentence.
Due to Oxford’s disciplinary procedures, it means that a staff panel due to decide whether she should be expelled cannot make their ruling until she states her desire to return.
It was originally thought that Ms Woodward would voluntarily leave the university, with her legal counsel, James Sturman QC, earlier stating that she was “reluctant” to return for fear of being recognised.
But her decision to prolong the uncertainty has prompted concern among some in the university, who fear she may playing for more time in order to improve her chances of readmission.
It comes a month after Ms Woodward was allowed to walk free from court, after a judge ruled that a custodial sentence would be too harsh for a woman of her ability.
She pleaded guilty to unlawful wounding earlier this year, after she stabbed her ex-boyfriend, Cambridge student Thomas Fairclough, in the leg with a breadknife while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The ruling outraged equality activists, who questioned whether a working class student would have been shown the same degree of leniency.
They also warned that the high-profile case could deter other men from coming forward over cases of domestic abuse.
Since her trial, Ms Woodward is believed to have returned home to her parents’ villa in Italy.
She has also undertaken drugs rehabilitation, which Mr Sturman claimed had resulted in a “sea change” of character.
However, Oxford University has warned Ms Woodward that her readmission is by no means guaranteed.
Speaking to this newspaper, a senior source at Oxford said that both the Medical faculty and Proctor’s office would be forced to wait until 2019 before reaching a decision.
They suggested that Ms Woodward may be trying to “set the terms” of the process, in the hope that she is looked on more favourably once her sentence is completed.
But they emphasised that she will be forced to undergo the same rigorous disciplinary procedures – regardless of how much time elapses.
However, a close friend of the 24-year-old, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, claimed that Ms Woodward had “an awful lot of institutional support”, adding that academics had identified her as a potential “Nobel Prize winner”.
“She has the backing of a number of senior figures at Christ Church,” they added.
“I think they would be happy to have her back, and that she will end up returning quietly. She’s done some very interesting work in cardiology, they’ve described her as a future Nobel Prize winner.
“She expressed a desire to go into research, and claims that she’s already in conversations to do a DPhil at Oxford.” But other peers were concerned by the opaqueness of the process.
“I don’t think Lavinia should be allowed back to college,” one said anonymously.
“College is meant to be a place where you have a home from home and feel safe, and I don’t think that having someone who has her history of aggression living here is conducive to that.
“There obviously is a safety concern associated with somebody who has pleaded guilty to unlawful wounding being in an educational environment. Clearly she’s been having help, but it’s up to college officials to decide whether it’s safe for us for her to come back.
“Solicitors for Ms Woodward told the Telegraph that Ms Woodward had “no comment to make… about her personal life”.
They added: “The Disciplinary process at Oxford is for The Proctors. It is not for our client to dictate it…. In due course that process will no doubt be concluded.”
Oxford University declined to comment.