Finalists at Somerville College were woken by singing and smoke which caused the fire alarm to go off in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The alarm was triggered by Somerville’s Chapel Director Yaqoob Bangash, who according to the College’s website is employed “to arrange services and initiate discussion on ethical and moral issues more broadly in College.” He shares accommodation with 24 third and fourth year students.
Bangash, a DPhil History candidate and OUCA member, was entertaining guests on Tuesday evening. He told Cherwell that “My friends went to a Catholic society dinner, and I went to Formal Hall, but we weren’t drunk.”
According to several students, Bangash and his guests made noise and sang loudly in the corridor, disturbing students’ sleep. The fire alarm went off at around 1.30am.
Somerville’s Principal, Dr Alice Prochaska, who has spoken to Bangash since the incident, and the students who saw him that night, told Cherwell that they were under the impression that the alarm had been set off when items within Bangash’s room such as a box of tissues were set on fire.
However, when Cherwell asked how the fire started, Bangash said, “I was making tea for my friends in the kitchenette when the pan I was boiling the water in caught fire.”
A German Classics student who lives in the building was reportedly particularly upset by the singing, which she believed was a Latin translation of verses of the German national anthem which have been banned for their Nazi content.
Bangash denied that the singing was offensive or had Nazi content. “My friends were singing Latin hymns. I would never allow racist stuff to go in my room, I would have thrown them out.”
One resident said, “My concern is that the items in his room had been left burning in a building where most people were asleep.
“We were woken up by smoke and had to call the porters. Bangash was seen to leave and came back with a friend later, laughing and blaming his friend for starting the fire.
“[Bangash] asked us, ‘why are you guys in pyjamas? Why are you in bed so early?’” Bangash denies making these comments.
Finlay Maguire, another affected finalist, told Cherwell, “He was entirely unapologetic at the time. Some students here plan to work away from their rooms based on the Chapel Director’s activity.”
Bangash told Cherwell that he was sorry for the incident, commenting, “I’ve spoken to the Dean and apologised to everyone.”
Maguire agreed that Bangash had since given a note of apology and chocolate to every resident who had been disturbed by the alarm. It is understood that Bangash finished his dissertation this week.
The College’s Principal told Cherwell that she understood the events of Tuesday night to be “a question of celebration” and that she had “established to my own satisfaction that there was no offensive singing.”
When asked what action was being taken, Prochaska said, “I want to hear everyone’s account before I make a decision. I’ve spoken to Bangash and he knows that college take matters like this very seriously.”