Oxford student 'too clever for jail' has dark history of drugs and violence

By Paul Bracchi, Josh White

Lavinia Woodward stabbed her boyfriend in the leg during a fight. Photo/Facebook
Lavinia Woodward stabbed her boyfriend in the leg during a fight. Photo/Facebook

One of her most recent Facebook pictures has Lavinia Woodward posing demurely next to a famous quotation by Coco Chanel: "A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous."

It helps if you have rich parents. Miss Woodward does. How many students, after all - even in the "dreaming spires" of Oxford where the 24-year-old is studying medicine - turn up to lectures with a Chanel handbag slung over their shoulder? The minimum price of such an accessory, incidentally, is around £1,000 ($1,881).

Lavinia Woodward spends much of her time at her mother's stunning Italian villa, perched on a hill surrounded by pines, a few miles from Lake Como. Her father, who also went to Oxford, is a senior oil company executive, according to Daily Mail.

The same Lavinia Woodward appeared in the dock at Oxford Crown Court this week.

The charge: unlawful wounding ("when a person unlawfully and maliciously, either wounds another person or inflicts grievous bodily harm upon another person").

The details which emerged could scarcely have provided a more shocking contrast with her gilded lifestyle and aspirations to be a heart surgeon after winning a place at Christ Church, Oxford's most socially prestigious college.

Woodward had met a young Cambridge graduate on an online dating site. During a drink and drug-fuelled row last September, she punched him and swiped at him with a bread knife, stabbed him in the leg then hurled a laptop at him, followed by a glass and a jam jar.

"Pretty awful," is how the judge, Ian Pringle, QC, described those events.

The offence, to which she pleaded guilty, would normally mean a custodial term, he said, but he delayed sentencing for four months and hinted Woodward would not be jailed, giving her time to prove she was conquering her cocaine habit.

Perhaps he was right to do so. But his reasons for showing compassion to a clearly troubled young woman have caused much controversy.

It comes as it was alleged that Woodward attacked her Tinder date, Thomas Fairclough, on two other occasions, according to The Sun.

The newspaper reports the student faced two further accusations of assault against Mr Fairclough. She had already pleaded guilty to wounding the former Cambridge student on September 30, 2016.

But she also denied two separate claims of assaulting him shortly after - on November 25 and December 12 - and reportedly denied both claims and it was later ruled they would lie on file.

A CPS spokesman told paper: "The judge agreed to leave the lesser charges on file after a discussion between defence and prosecution.

"The plea to the more serious charge was acceptable to the prosecution."

During her court hearing, the judge was concerned, he said, that imprisonment could affect her career after hearing that her college might allow her to return in October, although the university stressed that "no final decision has been reached".

"It seems to me that if this was a one-off, a complete one-off, to prevent this extraordinarily able young lady from following her long-held desire to enter the [medical] profession she wishes to would be a sentence which would be too severe," he said.

"What you did will never, I know, leave you but it was pretty awful, and normally it would attract a custodial sentence, whether it is immediate or suspended."

It was clearly not his intention, but his remarks created the impression that if Lavinia Woodward had been working on the checkout at Tesco, instead of being at Oxford with a glittering future ahead of her, she might have been sent to prison.

Everyone is equal before the law, in other words, but some in society, like Woodward, would seem more equal than others.

Many commentators have expressed such a view on radio and TV and in the Press over the past few days. Not surprisingly, the case also provoked a furious backlash on social media.

In Oxford, one "revelation'" has been greeted with incredulity: the suggestion that the offence which landed her in court was "a one-off". Woodward may not have previous convictions for violence, but she has been involved in a string of disturbing incidents at university.

One female contemporary, in the same accommodation block, asked to be moved after Woodward physically assaulted her in the street for no other reason, it seems, than she saw her chatting to an ex-boyfriend.

Another (male) student reported Woodward to the police after she made violent threats against him when he tried to help her overcome her cocaine problem.

Others said they felt intimidated by unsavoury characters who visited Woodward at her rooms at Christ Church and were suspected of keeping her supplied with drugs.

Students we spoke to this week asked not to be identified because they were concerned for their safety if Woodward did resume her studies at Oxford - which, in itself, is revealing.

Surely, there can't be many undergraduates, male or female, at any university, let alone Oxford, who could induce such trepidation among their peers.

And it seems clear from their testimonies that Lavinia Woodward's knife attack on Mr Fairclough at Christ Church last September was the culmination of a pattern of behaviour by a deeply unstable young woman who had a "very short fuse", to quote someone who got on the wrong side of her.

Unstable, but also quite brilliant, even by Oxford standards.

Woodward, who has an older brother (an anthropology graduate from Durham University) was educated at The British School of Milan, formerly known as The Sir James Henderson School, where fees can top £16,000 ($30,101) a year and which is close to her mother's £1 million ($1.8 milion) villa in the Italian village of Sirtori. She left for Oxford in 2010.

"Offer from OXFORD to read MEDICINE AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH," she wrote on Facebook . . . "must be a mistake!!!"

It was the beginning of an exceptional academic career. She came top in the pre-clinical tests all Oxford medical students take at the end of their third year.

Her name appears on a number of papers in prestigious academic journals, where she is credited with contributing to research (including The Journal of Physiology, Biophysical Journal and The Annals of Thoracic Surgery and Hypertension).

Her ambition, she made it known at college, was to cure heart disease.

Woodward's jetset lifestyle away from Oxford is also chronicled on Facebook. There are pictures of her boarding a plane, on a boat, on holiday in Madeira. But most of them have one thing in common: she's alone; no friends; no boyfriends, although she had a number of relationships at college.

One girl who did get to know Woodward thought she was "very cool" and likeable, to begin with. But the charm soon wore off.

The reasons were all too apparent. Behind her fashionable appearance, behind the glitzy trips abroad, behind the brains and the beauty, Lavinia Woodward had descended into a sordid and potentially dangerous world.

"She consumed an obscene amount of cocaine," the former college friend said. She insisted she didn't have a problem, that it was just "recreational".

"But she would often just leave the room then return and behave manically. Sometimes she would start taking cocaine at 10am just to get her through the day."

A number of "really unpleasant people" regularly came to see her at Christ Church, including one man who wore a gold chain around his neck and a dark hoodie.

"She was often seen in his company," said another friend. "He was a very scary and intimidating individual. He had convictions for drugs and making threats."

Whether her cocaine dependence was entirely to blame for what fellow students described as her 'psychotic' tendencies, it is impossible to say. Her defence team insist that it was.

The confrontation in the street, mentioned earlier, occurred around the time Woodward attacked 25-year-old Thomas Fairclough.

It began when she started screaming at another student on the other side of the road who was simply speaking to an old flame of hers. A witness who knew the victim takes up the story.

"She called her horrible names like slut, bimbo and traitor. My friend crossed the road to calm her down. She [Woodward] then began lashing out at her, slapping her and trying to shove her head against a gatepost.

The judge has hinted that Woodward will not be jailed because of her 'extraordinary talent'. Photo/Facebook
The judge has hinted that Woodward will not be jailed because of her 'extraordinary talent'. Photo/Facebook

"My friend was very, very shook up. She lived in the same university block as Lavinia Woodward so she wrote to the college authorities and they moved her almost immediately."

The Proctors' Office at Oxford, which investigates students' complaints, were aware of "lots of people" who had problems with Woodward, according to someone else who fell foul of her.

This student in question also felt compelled to report her to the police. He asked not to disclose the chain of events that persuaded him to do so in case it identified him, other than to say Woodward's threats of violence against him left him genuinely in fear of her.

Police issued him with an incident number and put a "red flag" against it, so that they would react to any future calls from him urgently, "like with a victim of domestic abuse".

Not long afterwards, Woodward attacked Mr Fairclough, the young man she met on dating site Tinder.

The row escalated when Mr Fairclough called Woodward's mother on Skype, apparently to report her increasingly worrying behaviour.

The extent of his injuries were not disclosed in court and, so far, he has chosen not to make any statement in the aftermath of the furore surrounding the case.

Countless others have, though, on social media, including a student from Magdalen College, Oxford.

Her tweet summed up the feelings of many. "I'm not exactly a prison advocate but . . . a sentence should be a sentence, regardless of how smart/well-off/well-educated you are . . ."

Woodward's barrister said the assault on Mr Fairclough had resulted from her drug addiction. He told the court her dreams of becoming a surgeon were "almost impossible" as her conviction would have to be disclosed.

But her career options would not be entirely blighted if she avoided prison because, in due course, any community penalty would be expunged.

If she qualified as a doctor and applied for registration, the General Medical Council could consider her application.

It is by no means certain, though, that Woodward will be allowed to resume her studies even if she is spared prison.

"A decision on continuing study will always take full account of the health, well-being and best interests of both the student and the wider student community," the university stressed in a statement yesterday.

"No one outside the College and University can guarantee the right of a return to study. No final decision has been reached or guarantee made."

Of course, a much fuller picture of Woodward's past has now emerged. When we contacted her about these further allegations, her lawyers informed us that "she was not doing any interviews and has no comment to make save through her counsel on 25 September [the date of her sentencing]".

"We ask you to respect her right to privacy and the fact that she is seeking help for her addiction."

Yet, their "client" has already announced that she is "seeking help" on Facebook.

In January, she posted a picture of herself outside The Priory's Life Works addiction treatment centre in Woking, Surrey. She wrote: "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she began to fly#rehab#lifeworks#the priory. Time for a new beginning."

Was it just a coincidence that her very public admission that she was striving to rehabilitate herself came to light before throwing herself on the mercy of Judge Ian Pringle, QC, this week?

Only Woodward herself can answer that.

- Additional reporting, Tim Stewart

- Daily Mail

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