Cambridge student who taunted homeless man by burning £20 note returns to college after apology letter

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A Cambridge student who burned a £20 note in front of a homeless person will return to university this autumn after sending a letter of apology.

In a letter circulated among peers and printed in Varsity, the university’s student newspaper, Ronald Coyne said he was sorry for taunting the homeless man, saying it was “wrong” and adding: “I abused my privilege.”

Mobile phone footage of the incident went viral in February showing the Pembroke College law student, dressed in a white bow-tie and tails, set fire to a £20 note in front of unemployed crane operator Ryan Davies, 31.

Apologising to students for the “guilt by association” they may have suffered, he wrote: “The gift of a great education should be a tool to enrich society, not an excuse to debase it.

“I made a terrible mistake, and I quite rightly faced disciplinary action for it.”

The incident sparked widespread indignation and more than 23,000 people signed a petition for him to be expelled from the university.

Mr Coyne told in his letter how he had received abuse in the wake of the incident.

“When the media commentary flared up, strangers sent piles of abusive mail to my family home threatening me with violence, and chemical attacks,” he wrote. 

“I received some sympathetic letters and emails from people who thought that the online abuse went too far. To those people, I am still grateful.”

Mr Davies told the Cambridge News shortly after the incident how Mr Coyne mocked him after he asked passers-by for spare change.

He told the newspaper that the teenager said: “How’s that for change, I’ve changed it into flames.”

Mr Davies, who had been homeless for three months, said: “He says let’s see what I’ve got and pulls out a £20 note and went to pass it to me.

“I couldn’t believe my luck, know what I mean. But then he pulled it back and lit it, burnt it and he says ‘How’s that for change, I’ve changed it into flames’.”

“It was absolutely disgusting. It was horrible. Just plain nasty.”

A spokesman for Pembroke College told the newspaper on Thursday: “Like many, the college was shocked to read the details of a widely reported incident on Bridge Street, Cambridge, in February, involving one of our students.

“Disciplinary action has been taken, but of course the College cannot comment on the outcome of individual disciplinary cases.”

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