THE principal of an Oxford college has hit back after being accused of “destroying its history”.

Protesters accusing Ruskin College of destroying an historic archive presented college governors with a petition signed by 7,500 people, along with a wreath.

They say that thousands of student records dating from 1899 were deliberately shredded by the college, a claim that college principal Professor Audrey Mullender has strongly rejected.

Prof Mullender said: “Only a tiny handful of people have checked the true situation with the college – others have simply joined the bandwagon.

“There is a confusion between student records and library archives.

“Our Registry was holding past student data unlawfully, including sensitive data as defined by the legislation, without the permission of the data subjects. This personal information exceeded what it was reasonable or fair to retain.

“In its place, we now have a digitised, interactive database with basic information about who studied here and when, on which past students can register the details they would like us to keep.”

Prof Mullender added: “We are in wonderful new and refurbished buildings in Old Headington and we have just swept the board with good grades from Ofsted. We celebrate and cherish our past, as may be seen from the memorabilia on display around the college.”

The petition calls for an end to further destruction, with surviving records transferred to an institution ready to preserve them.

The row over the fate of the student records broke out when the college, which has close links with the Labour Party and Trade Union movement, completed its move from its central Oxford base in Walton Street, its home for more than a century.

The college site in Old Headington recently underwent a £17m redevelopment.

Dr Hilda Kean, a former dean at the college, said: “Files destroyed included thousands of files on individual students as well as those of the Ruskin Student Union. Student dissertations were also destroyed.”

She said the wreath laid at the college on November 30 was in memory of the achievements of students “whose lives have been eradicated from the historical record”.