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Barrister mother says she wanted due process for suspended students

THE St John's College mother who represented 32 of the 33 students involved in the poisoning of a teenage girl stands by her conviction that they have been treated unfairly, saying the rector's behaviour was ''disturbing''.

Caroline Ravenscroft, a criminal barrister, said she felt compelled to step in on behalf of the students when they faced a disciplinary hearing before the former Federal Court judge Roger Gyles earlier this year.

''I felt strongly that the investigation into the incident had been conducted unfairly,'' said Ms Ravenscroft, whose son was one of the accused.

''So I assisted the students in appealing the actions and decisions of the rector.

''There was no procedure for investigation of allegations of misconduct. In my job, everybody knows there must be procedure.''

Some students and their parents subsequently made allegations to the Catholic college's council of ''misconduct'' by its rector, Michael Bongers, in the initial investigation.


''They were just complaining about the way it was handled, the way they were treated by a man who's in a role - not only in charge of the college, but in a pastoral role - and his behaviour was disturbing,'' Ms Ravenscroft said. ''The manner of his investigation caused many parents great concern.''

Mr Bongers denied he bullied or intimidated students and said his treatment of them was ''fair''. But he said the matters were now in the hands of the Cardinal George Pell, the NSW government and the University of Sydney's vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, and declined to comment further.

The University of Sydney wants to reform the governance of the colleges, so it can have some say in the way they are run. St John's College is self-governed.

''That's what everybody wants out of this, to have some rules in place so you know what you can and can't do,'' Ms Ravenscroft said. ''When you do something now, there's nothing there.''

Ms Ravenscroft lectures on the law of evidence at the University of Notre Dame, and has worked as a barrister in Britain, Hong Kong and Sydney. Working for the Crown in Sydney, she has prosecuted cases such as insurance fraud and arson.

Contacted by Fairfax Media, she first declined to comment, but then answered questions. She retracted some of her comments, then retracted her retraction.

She would not be drawn on the vandalism allegations, other than to lambast the Herald and its informants for publicising them during the exam period, in what she said was a ''disturbingly one-sided'' account of events.

The students were not her ''clients'', nor did she know anything about those incidents, she said.

But she confirmed that she had acted for them pro bono at a time they were concerned that the odds were stacked against them.

The rector's original investigation of an incident that resulted in a first-year student being taken to hospital, after drinking a cocktail of alcohol and household liquids, denied them due process, Ms Ravenscroft said. It was this which prompted the appeal.

The students were happy with the outcome. Mr Gyles upheld the suspension but said they could not be compelled to do community service, and allowed them to stand for the student council.

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