Disgraced Oxford student Katherine Rainwood fled to Germany after being thrown out for cheating in her final exams, it emerged today.

The 22-year-old student leader is understood to have downloaded an essay from her computer after invigilators allowed her to sit an exam in a separate room for medical reasons.

Friends and relatives rallied round the former student union president yesterday and refused to disclose her exact whereabouts.

She resigned as president in June after she was sent down. In a statement at the time she apologised to Students for "letting them down".

Yesterday her father Andrew, of Eastbourne, East Sussex, said: "She left Oxford and went to an aunt's house in London and then as far as I know she went to Germany with her boyfriend."

Students began to get suspicious when Katherine's name did not appear on the list of those graduating in politics, economics and philosophy. She told friends she had decided to postpone her finals until next year.

But others who had seen her in her formal academic dress on exam days assumed she had failed. Rumours grew when she resigned as student president just days after taking up the high-profile post.

In her statement she said: "Due to extremely difficult personal circumstances it is with great sadness that I resign my position as OUSU president. "This has been one of the hardest decisions in my life to make. I am very upset to be leaving Oxford and OUSU and would like to thank everyone who has been working with me and supporting me in any work for OUSU. I apologise greatly for having let you down at this point."

A University spokesman said: "She is appealing to the proctors against the severity of the sentence."

Acting OUSU president Mark Strathdene said he hoped Katherine - a St Hilda's College student who championed lesbian, gay and bi-sexual rights - would bounce back.

He said: "Katherine was very nice. She was definitely a leader who was very good at public speaking. She got involved in all sorts of issues in Oxford."

Alex von Tunzelmann, who attended Katherine's school, Brighton and Hove High, said many students thought Katherine would make a good president.

The managing director of university newspaper Cherwell said: "She was definitely into causes - women's issues and the environment particularly, and was clearly dedicated to a political career. This has caused a great deal of gossip."

Katherine, who changed her name from Katarina Lakka when she went to school, has two older sisters, Marina and Helen.

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