Cambridge student who burnt £20 note in front of homeless man apologises

Ronald Coyne says he 'abused privilege' as he prepares to resume studies despite petition calling for his expulsion


A Cambridge University student who burnt a £20 note in front of a homeless man has written a letter of apology as he prepares to return to university after seven months of disciplinary action.

Ronald Coyne, who studies law at Pembroke College, admits he "abused his privilege" in taunting Ryan Davies, who was living on the streets of the university town.

Davies approached the first-year student on a February night to ask for spare change.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Dressed in a bow tie and tails, Coyne produced a £20 note and then set fire to it, while another person filmed the encounter on Snapchat.

The video sparked a massive backlash, not only among the Cambridge student body but also in the national press and on social media.

More than 23,000 people signed a petition calling for Coyne to be sent down from the university.

He was also expelled from the Cambridge University Conservative Association, where he had been a committee member, with the association calling his actions "repugnant", the Daily Telegraph reports.

In the letter, Coyne said he acted "without thought or consideration" and had "quite rightly" faced disciplinary action. He added that he had received abuse and threats since the story went viral.

"I abused my privilege as a student at such a great university, and behaved in away which is totally contrary to the values of the university and of its students," he wrote.

"I cannot begin to express my heartfelt remorse for the guilt by association you all faced, on many levels."

The law student added that he has since taken courses in alcohol awareness and social inclusion to address the "root causes" of his "terrible mistake".

However, some commentators were unimpressed. Despite apologising to fellow students for "misrepresenting" the university's values, Coyne "fail[s] to say sorry directly to the vulnerable man he taunted in his apology letter," says Cambridge News.

Pembroke College says it is circulating the letter of apology so fellow students can see his contrition ahead of his return to the college for the new term.

The college added that students raised more than £1,000 for local rough sleepers in response to the incident, and noted there has also been a "significant rise" in student volunteering with homeless charities.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.