Credit: Al Jazeera

New Al Jazeera podcast exposes problems in handling of lecturer sexual harassment case

By Lucy Dunn and Luke Chafer

CW: Sexual harassment/assault, emotional abuse, death.

A number of women complained about UofG PhD student, Zahid Khan, however over two years on, their complaints have not yet been resolved.

Revealed in a podcast released by Al Jazeera yesterday afternoon, two women have filed complaints of sexual harassment against a recent UofG graduate, Ehsas Zahid Khan, who was studying a PhD in Film & TV at the time. Lecturer in Film Studies at the University, Becca Harrison, and Patty* took their complaints to the University Senate, however both felt they had experienced further trauma as a result of the complaints procedure and handling of the situation by police.

Al Jazeera also flagged up systemic issues with university complaints processes, including the fact that multiple complaints made against the same person are not considered together, and that during a police case, universities suspend their own investigations.  

Khan had a “warning letter” sent to the University about him regarding his “compulsive [lying]” prior to the formal complaints made by Patty and Becca. He is reported as telling the women different accounts of the death of his wife in Pakistan, who died on 21 October 2014, stating to one woman that she had been shot as she was a journalist, but another alleged Khan had told her that his wife had been crushed by a moving truck. In Al Jazeera’s podcast, suspicions about Khan’s involvement in the death of his wife have been voiced.

“Khan had a “warning letter” sent to the University about him regarding his “compulsive [lying]”…”

An email received by The Glasgow Guardian stated that complaints against Khan were made in relation to “his coercion, abusive nature, controlling behaviour, threat, blackmailing, harassment and stalking”. The email also alleges that Khan has passed himself off, in the past, as “a professional lecturer, researcher, international journalist, financial analyst, citizen of USA and Canada, and scriptwriter” but with no “factual” evidence to back these claims up. 

When he moved to the UK to start his PhD, he struck up a relationship with Patty, which she describes as becoming “emotionally abusive” quickly. The initial first complainant, who had sent the warning letter, reached out to Patty after seeing she was involved with Khan via social media, and told her that she had complained to the University of Glasgow about Khan being a “compulsive liar”. Patty said that in comparing her own story to the first woman’s, there was a “repeating pattern of behaviour”. In early 2018, Patty made a formal complaint to the University of Glasgow about Khan. She also reported Khan to the police, where he was initially charged with stalking. 

Becca Harrison, who has recently left her job at the University of Glasgow, told Al Jazeera how she had met Khan via a dating app, not realising that he was a student in her own department. After discovering this on a date, Becca said that she was quick to clarify that she wouldn’t date a student in her own department and they could continue talking, platonically. However, she states that Khan initially became very forward, and then asked her to kiss him. When she refused, she reported that Khan forcibly “put his tongue into [her] mouth”.

“She reported that Khan forcibly “put his tongue into [her] mouth”…”

The University of Glasgow’s code of conduct states that: “Students must not use threatening, offensive, indecent or violent language or behaviour, including sexual violence or abuse.” Becca felt that Khan had crossed this line, and after finding out that Khan would be teaching undergraduate students, she reported him in June 2018, through the University’s official complaints procedure. The University complaints policy says that it aims to resolve disputes in 20 working days, and if not, keep everyone informed of progress. 

The HR department got back to her two months later, and their response was convoluted, stating: “This case is more complicated than usual. The student is known to us due to an ongoing police investigation, and this is the reason that we have not yet been able to take any action against him as it may prejudice that investigation.” Three other women were reported to have also complained about Khan and at least one of them went to the police, Becca was informed by HR. Becca stated that: “I, weirdly, just felt vindicated as it supported everything I had thought about him.” 

However, as Khan was under investigation by the police, the University told the women that they would not investigate until his criminal case had finished. Action was first taken by the University in November 2019, nine months after receiving the first complaint about Khan. In communication sent to Becca, the University said: “We have been advised the charges will proceed to trial, so the Clerk of Senate has decided to apply a precautionary suspension. This means the student is not permitted on campus at all, except with prior permission to attend any pre-booked support appointment.” 

“Action was first taken by the University in November 2019, nine months after receiving the first complaint…”

In February 2019, the charges against Khan were dropped, but fresh charges were brought against Patty, and the other woman who had complained about Khan’s lying, of stalking. To Becca, another email was sent, stating: “The court case has been abandoned. This potentially leaves us in the position of having to lift his suspension on the basis that we have no other formal reason to continue it.” Whilst HR had initially told Becca that her complaint, and those of the other complainants, would be heard, she repeatedly received rescheduled dates and constant delays that took her hearing to March 2020. Becca did not want to be present at the hearings because the perpetrator has the ability to put questions to the victim. 

Following the senate hearing for Becca’s case, which dismissed the allegations, former University VC Neal Juster told Becca that the reason the outcome wasn’t what she had hoped was because there were “two versions [of the story] from two different perspectives”. Becca argued that her side was not “perspective”, it was “fact”. Juster also admitted to not knowing of the other complaints against Khan despite the Senate previously stating that they had received three other complaints. Becca has since taken to Twitter to say that after her meeting with Juster described her as “screaming and shouting”. She commented online: “It’s safe to say that I consider [the University of Glasgow] as much an abuser as any man who has violated my boundaries. I was gaslit and made to think I was mad.”

She continued: “The [University] still hasn’t responded to my email reporting Khan for contacting me last week, which breaks the only condition set for him following my complaint.”

Screenshots on Twitter show the University has privately apologised to Becca, stating: “The Convener’s letter acknowledges you are telling the truth and on behalf of the University of Glasgow, I apologise for any additional stress this protracted process has caused you.” In a following tweet, however, Becca commented: “I still haven’t had that public apology. Is it forthcoming now, [Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli]?”

Khan received his PhD from the University of Glasgow in 2021. The University has since told Patty it will hear her complaint against Khan, to decide whether to offer Khan further employment opportunities. 

The University of Glasgow has been contacted for a comment.

*Name changed to preserve anonymity.


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