Physics Department Intern who Pleaded Guilty to Rape Allowed to Continue Work on Campus

University of York intern Joseph McKeown was jailed for rape after pleading guilty in York Crown Court last September.

Central Hall, blue skies behind
(Image: Adrien Kriesch)

University of York intern Joseph McKeown was jailed for rape after pleading guilty in York Crown Court last September.

McKeown had been undertaking an internship in the physics department at the University during the summer months and was due to start a PhD last September.

However, in September 2019 he was found guilty and jailed of a rape he committed in 2017. 

It has emerged that Professor Thomas Krauss— for whom McKeown worked during his internship— knew he was under investigation for rape and allowed him to continue working at the University. 

The BBC reported that Joseph McKeown pleaded guilty to rape on 24 July last year, but the University says that his internship with the physics department wasn’t due to end until 23 August.

Krauss even wrote a letter of recommendation for McKeown’s court case alongside fellow employee and physics lecturer Dr Laurence Wilson in defence of McKeown’s character – the reference described McKeown as a “first-rate scientist” who “will change lives”. 

A whistle-blower contacted the BBC after seeing McKeown continue to work on the University campus after he had pleaded guilty to rape.

Speaking to the BBC, the whistle-blower said: “I saw him around the department several times during August”. 

“Me, myself, and the other people he was working with everyday had no idea that there was a rape investigation going on or that there had been any kind of guilty plea.” 

“The fact that no one working with him knew this was going on you could argue that everyone was put in danger.”

Shockingly, the whistle-blower told the BBC that “[McKeown] was frequently seen working with a younger female student.”

According to the BBC, Professor Krauss and Dr Laurence Wilson “say they didn’t know about the guilty plea”. 

However, the fact that McKeown had pleaded guilty,  and was therefore going through a sentencing rather than a trial, would have been information that the two could have easily attained. 

According to the court transcript, Krauss and Wilson “provided those references in full knowledge of the allegations”. 

Mr Goode who appeared on behalf of the defendant said that Krauss’ reference was “supportive of the defendant returning to the University post-release”. 

Since this news has come to light, both Thomas Krauss and Laurence Wilson remain in their original positions of employment. 

The BBC asked to speak to Thomas Krauss and Laurence Wilson. Both declined an interview.

In response, the University sent a statement to the BBC: “we deeply regret that Joseph McKeown continued his short internship following his guilty plea. We apologise unreservedly for the distress caused and our thoughts remain with the victim of his crime.”

“Disciplinary action was taken and we remain committed to applying the lessons learnt from this case, including the ongoing review of our policies and procedures.”

According to Survive, a charity that supports survivors of sexual violence, the University now needs to take action to regain the confidence and trust of its employees and its students: “change [is] needed at University of York to protect against sexual violence”. 

The statement went on to say, “credible information was sent to the BBC Look North team, suggesting nothing had changed on campus a year on from the matter meaning the situation could happen again”. 

CEO of Survive Mags Godderidge commented: “There needs to be assurance from the senior leadership team that perpetrators will be not be shielded”. 

“They need to lead a cultural shift and demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence by saying to each and every lecturer in each and every department, ‘sexual violence has no place at this university’”. 

“We are more than a year on from when the academics made the ill-judged decision for McKeown to continue being employed as an intern. It also raises safeguarding concerns for the staff and students who continued to work alongside McKeown in blissful ignorance of his serious crimes.” 

Godderidge continued: “by standing by a sexual violence perpetrator, the academics strongly indicated that sexual violence is not a big deal. They not only trivialised his crime but were dismissive of the harm he caused. 

“Incidents like this just make it even harder for survivors to come forward. We appeal to all at the University to take the steps that are necessary to protect their students from sexual predators.” 

According to a report by the BBC in 2019 “Figures published earlier this year showed there were a record 58,657 allegations of rape in the year up to March, but only 1,925 successful prosecutions”.

It is vital now that all members of the University work together to make sure that students and staff are safe. 

A University spokesperson said: “We deeply regret that Joseph McKeown continued his short internship following his guilty plea. We apologise unreservedly for the distress caused and our thoughts remain with the victim of his crime. 

“As soon as we were made aware of the circumstances, which was after the internship ended, disciplinary action was taken and the University liaised closely with the department involved, contacting staff and students and offering one-to-one advice and support. 

“We remain committed to applying the lessons learnt from this case, including the ongoing review of our policies and procedures. 

“We would like to reassure our staff and students that their safety and wellbeing is of paramount importance, and we continue to work hard to create a culture where all our staff and students feel safe and able to report unacceptable behaviour, confident that the University takes this issue very seriously.”

You can see the BBC report here: 

One thought on “Physics Department Intern who Pleaded Guilty to Rape Allowed to Continue Work on Campus

  1. I find it distasteful that the university spokesperson said: “We deeply regret that Joseph McKeown continued his *short* internship following his guilty plea….”

    The use of the term ‘short internship’ seeks to play down the University’s culpability and the long term harm that this message sends out.

    The University must take stock. This is not the first incident in recent times where female students feel unsupported by the institution in addressing sexual intimidation and assault from male students.

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