Scandal at the Union

The former Secretary-designate of the Oxford Union, Cai Wilshaw, has been accused of attempted computer hacking, as well as sexism against a fellow Standing Committee member who felt “personally victimised” by “sexism” and “misogyny”. The allegations come after emails were leaked to senior members of the Union committee.

A total of nine emails, distributed in the form of printed and annotated screenshots, were given to senior members of the Union, understood to include the Treasurer-elect and Librarian-elect. The emails contain alleged evidence of Wilshaw’s intent to hack the computers of his election competitors, as well as the distribution of memes that have been described as “sexist” by the Standing Committee member depicted in them.

In the emails, Wilshaw, who stood down from his position on Tuesday 11th June just three days after his election, appears to solicit advice on how to “assert a degree of surveillance over the actions of [his] coworkers”. In email exchanges with two unknown correspondents, Wilshaw directly enquires about “HOW do I get the files of people with Macs?”, and receives a detailed response from a person identified only as ‘A.J.’. Wilshaw was unavailable for comment about any of the allegations.

It is unknown whether Wilshaw applied the knowledge gained from this correspondence, although he signs off one email “I’ll give it a try”. A member of a Union committee who wished to remain anonymous told Cherwell, “Someone attempted to break into at least one person’s computer over the vac.” The computer belonged to Roberto Weeden-Sanz, who, at the time, was on Secretary’s committee, but subsequently topped the Standing committee election and was promoted to Secretary following Wilshaw’s resignation.

The committee member continued, “It was put on our little union group that someone had attempted to log into Roberto’s laptop so many times that it had locked him out and he only managed to get back into it because he had the receipt for his laptop and he took it back and got it unlocked.” Weeden-Sanz was unavailable for comment on these claims.

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Wilshaw’s mailbox, which has access to an account called aditiv92@gmail.com, also received a copy of an email sent to Cherwell, and other student journalists, on the 20th of May. The email stated, “A nice hack-hating front page is fun to publish once in a while. The best thing is it could even go national. Remember Maddie Grant?” and signed off with “Disciplinary proceedings taking place at the Union at 2pm today, Tuesday the 21st”. The anonymous message pertained to the charges brought against Standing Committee member Mayank Banerjee, who was reprimanded and fined £100. A Union committee member told Cherwell that they believed the emails to be “sent from an account that clearly was [Wilshaw’s].” Banerjee declined to comment.

In a separate email sent from Wilshaw to a senior Union officer, Wilshaw writes, “Caiford invites you to view these spectacular memes”, followed by three links. The ‘memes’ depict Librarian candidate Amelia Hamer and are accompanied by the phrases “Only girl – comes 4th”, “‘Vote Amelia’ – tribbed”, and ‘Gets sponsorship – Prize: BJ”. Amelia Hamer confirmed to Cherwell that she believes the memes were “created by ‘Caiford’, the pseudonym used by Cai Wilshaw”. 

Hamer, who finished runner-up in this term’s Librarian election, told Cherwell that she “felt personally victimised by the sexist and misogynistic nature of the memes, especially as one of the few women on standing committee at the time. It saddens me that Mr Wilshaw felt that such behaviour was appropriate, but I appreciate that sexist humour may have been a temping last resort after failing to master higher forms of wit. Still, perhaps he would do better to keep his misogyny more under wraps in the future.”

In a statement to Cherwell, Becky Howe, who resigned from Secretary’s Committee last week after the elections, said that the distribution of the memes “not only demeans Amelia and her many achievements, but also invokes ideas about women having to use their sexuality to gain success”. However, she went on to say, “At the heart of my decision [to resign] was my disgust at the personal conduct of some of the candidates. The memes were only a small part of this… I resigned because it made me feel sick that I had known so little about what was going on until after the election. I resigned because I don’t want to be associated with such behaviour. I resigned because – frankly – the outright victimisation of candidates brought shame upon the Union, and made me ashamed that my name was even on the ballot paper.”

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Not all students have reacted angrily to the revelations. A former member of Secretary’s Committee commented, “he’s paid the price by resigning and that ought to be enough. I reckon these things happen all the time across Oxford; people just love to hate the Union in particular.”

In response to these claims, Union President Joey D’Urso emailed all committee members stating, “If anyone is contacted by the press, please forward me the email but do not reply, not even to say that you don’t have a comment. Thanks.” Union rules stipulate that no current committee members may speak to the press “concerning the Society’s Elections, any Election Tribunal or any Appellate Board”, although the issue of sexism between members falls outside of this jurisdiction. 

Wilshaw subsequently sent an open letter to Cherwell, which is published in full here.