The petition to boot the £20 note burning law student out of Cambridge is a step too far

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By Thomas Connelly on

Enough is enough


Ronald Coyne will want to put the events of the past few days behind him.

The apparently quiet and mild-mannered University of Cambridge law student hit headlines across the country on Thursday after footage emerged of him burning a £20 note. Fanning the flames of internet outrage, the 18-year-old, wearing a formal dress code know as white tie, chose to carry out the cash burning stunt in the vicinity of a homeless man.

Now, before I become the subject of my own internet bashing, I would like to make it clear from the start that Coyne’s behaviour is abhorrent. However, a petition calling for Coyne to be kicked out of the elite university — which has received over 20,000 signatures since it was set up a few days ago — is a step too far.


It’s a step too far firstly, and perhaps of most importance given the focus of this website, because of Coyne’s future career in law. I think everyone is in agreement that as a result of his drunken mistake, his chances of securing a training contract/pupillage have been dealt a severe blow. With social media checks common-place at the top City firms, it wouldn’t take a graduate recruiter very long to stumble across Coyne’s past indiscretion. With this in mind, setting up a petition is the online equivalent of punching a man teenager while he’s already heading towards the canvas.

I also question whether there would have been half as much outrage if Coyne’s background had been different. What if the young aspiring lawyer had attended a less prestigious university? Had he not been educated at a public school? If he was not, until recently, a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA)? I certainly don’t think there would be a petition calling for him to be booted off his course if this was the case.

The tabloids — which are motivated by sales and clicks — can frame this incident how they like. ‘Oh, it was a representation of the elitism rife within Cambridge,’ or ‘Coyne is just a typical Tory supporting toff.’ These were the actions of a naive young man who fell foul to social media’s all-seeing eye. Nothing more, nothing less. The petition is born out of the media’s portrayal of what it believes Coyne represents. Lets not make him a scapegoat for what are bigger problems at play.

Please don’t get me wrong, Coyne’s behaviour should be punished. However let’s put down the pitchforks and torches and try and achieve something positive from this sorry mess. Channeling public anger into raising money for the homeless in Cambridge would be a far more productive response. Maybe Coyne himself should do some volunteering at a local soup kitchen or shelter. A petition — presumably created by someone who has never even met Coyne nor knows how this incident has impacted him — preventing him from finishing his legal studies is not the answer.

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