Supplementary evidence from the National
Institute for Medical Research
NIMR ANSWERS TO
1. The Committee would like to see copies
of the e-mail from Richard Flavell and Paul Nurse referred to
in the evidence session (Q74) and any evidence of alleged coercion
that was referred to in the session (Qs90, 98)
We enclose a copy of the Flavell-Nurse e-mail
of 30 November (Annex A) that was referred to in the evidence
session (Q74). This e-mail was in response to an MRC draft statement
for Task Force members to sign that presumably contained the words
"no coercion". The Mill Hill Task Force members were
not contacted at the draft statement stage. However, the statement
seems remarkably similar to one circulated to all the Task Force
in August (e-mail) that also requested their signatures but was
There are four main pieces of evidence of the
alleged coercion of Robin Lovell-Badge referred to in the session
(Qs 90, 98).
1. Robin's evidence in the session and extended
in writing here (see attachment) (Annex B) indicates the background
to the threat.
2. John Skehel's recollections of Robin
reporting this and previous threats to him as Director and Robin's
3. A Task Force e-mail of 26 July 2004 (e-mail)
from Robin to Colin Blakemore in which he states " . . .
I have experienced far too many unpleasant 'phone conversations
with you, where you have generally ignored what I have said, and
in some cases even threatened me."
4. On 8 October 2004 at Mill Hill, Blakemore,
Andrew McMichael and Steve Tomlinson met with Heads of Divisions,
without either John Skehel, the Director or the assistant Director
John Wills being present, to discuss MRC conclusions regarding
NIMR. The Heads of Divisions recall that:
"In reply to a question, Blakemore said
he had put no pressure on Task Force members to reach the conclusion
that Mill Hill should not be an option for the renewed Institute.
Robin Lovell-Badge immediately challenged this assertion, saying
explicitly that Colin had made threatening telephone calls to
him. Colin at first denied this but then admitted that he did
recall a heated telephone call. The discussion was curtailed at
this point by Steve Tomlinson saying that he was becoming irritated."
Midway through the final Task Force meeting,
the seven members present declared their preferences for the options
for the future location of NIMR.
Five out of seven preferred single sites either
at Mill Hill or in central London (Nurse, Flavell, Lovell-Badge,
Gamblin and Tomlinson).
One out of seven preferred a single or multiple
distributed sites in central London (Blakemore) and
One out of seven had no preference (Denton).
In an opinion collected before the meeting an
absentee stated to Colin Blakemore and the consultants who were
recording the statement, a preference for NIMR at Mill Hill (Davies).
Nevertheless, following subsequent persuasion
five out of nine Task Force members excluded the Mill Hill site
as an option (Blakemore, Bernstein, Denton, Tomlinson and Davies).
2. How did the NIMR engage with the FIS on
the development of its proposal for relocation at Addenbrooke's
NIMR was given the FIS consultation document
with its proposal for relocation to Addenbrooke's, on 31 March
2003. Until that date we were unaware of any proposal to relocate
NIMR and, therefore, had not engaged in the development of this
On 2 April 2003, the MRC Chairman, Sir Anthony
Cleaver, CEO Sir George Radda, Executive Director Nick Winterton,
Head of Corporate Affairs Jane Lee and Head of Human Resources
Elizabeth Sideris came to Mill Hill to present the FIS consultation
document to the staff. A preliminary meeting was arranged with
the Heads of Divisions to clarify the MRC intention to downsize
the Institute described in the document. A letter was subsequently
sent to MRC explaining our concerns. After this exchange the Director,
John Skehel, having informed the MRC representatives and the HoD's
previously that he had to attend a funeral left the meeting. A
discussion continued with Sir Anthony Cleaver on the possible
outcome of the consultation process and when he failed to reassure
the Heads of Division of the possibility of reversing the FIS
recommendations by consultation, the Heads of Divisions left the
Subsequently the Heads of Divisions prepared
"A response to the Medical Research Council (MRC) from the
Heads of Division's Committee of the MRC National Institute for
Medical Research, Mill Hill (NIMR) in relation to the recommendations
of the MRC Subcommittee on Forward Investment Strategy, May 2003"
detailing their objections to the recommendations and their reasons
for them. We then participated fully in the consultation process.
3. What was the role of two NIMR staff on
the Task Force: ie to represent the views of NIMR management to
the Task Force or to report back to the NIMR on the work of the
Task Force, or both?
The role of the two NIMR staff on the Task Force
(TF) was just as for all TF members, principally to bring their
independent experience and viewpoint to looking at the future
of the National Institute. It was not the intention of MRC that
NIMR management views should be represented since the Director
was excluded from membership. From the outset however the TF made
it clear that an additional role to be played by these two members
was to keep NIMR staff informed about the workings and conclusions
of the TF. This obligation was fulfilled by the two NIMR members
meeting and discussing TF progress with the NIMR Heads of Division
(HoD) committee at regular intervals. During these meetings a
wide range of opinions and views were usually raised which contributed
to the backdrop of thinking of the two NIMR members. The HoD committee
did not instruct the NIMR members nor did it criticise stances
or opinions adopted by the two NIMR members.
At various stages, the NIMR TF members sought
factual information from the HoD Committee and its individual
members concerning TF work. For example, the NIMR TF members worked
with another TF member, Professor Steve Tomlinson, on a series
of proposals for how NIMR might, in the future, expand its impact
in clinical training and translation. These ideas originated mainly
from the HoDs in discussion with their clinical colleagues and
collaborators. In this way the proposals came from the Institute
as a whole and were supported with enthusiasm by the HoD Committee.
The role of the TF members in this case was one of facilitation
A second example of how the two NIMR staff members
were supported with factual data from the HoD Committee concerns
the draft of the final Task Force report. When the worked-up UCL
and KCL bids were seen by the NIMR TF members it was apparent
that these two institutions had been asked to provide something
like 4,000 square metres of space for animal accommodation. This
seemed too small for current scientific activities and the NIMR
TF members asked for data and clarification from members of the
HoD committee, which did reveal a serious error had been made
in this specification by the MRC.
On the occasions that specific presentations
and proposals from NIMR were made to the TF, they were made by
the NIMR Director and relevant HoDs and not by the NIMR TF members.
4. What role did NIMR management play in the
exchange of e-mail correspondence that followed the fifth meeting
of the Task Force
The NIMR TF members discussed the fifth TF meeting
(and all the others) extensively with the HoD committee and subsequently
they discussed with them the polarisation of the TF. Much of the
discussion centred on why the initial report of the fifth meeting
given by the NIMR TF members to the HoD committee was substantially
different from the eventual TF report. Throughout the course of
these discussions the NIMR TF members were told that they had
confidence and support of the HoD committee in following what
they believed to be the proper course of action. At no point was
any pressure put on the NIMR TF members by the NIMR management
to alter the views they held or expressed to other TF members.
As the preparation of the final TF report proceeded the NIMR TF
members came under sustained pressure from the TF secretariat
and CEO to acquiesce to the views and statements endorsed by the
MRC. The NIMR TF members made extensive efforts to find wordings
that enabled the views of the whole TF to be reflected in the
final report. Many of these suggestions were rejected by the MRC
secretariat or CEO and eventually the MRC CEO took the arbitrary
decision to omit the views of the NIMR TF members from the final
report and in so doing marginalised them from the TF process.
5. Does the NIMR support, in principle, a
shift in its focus towards translational research and how was
this view relayed to the Task Force?
Yes. One of our commitments in the last Institute
quinquennial review in 2000 was to recruit clinical candidates
to PhD training posts. As noted in (3) above NIMR Heads of Divisions
together with their clinical colleagues and collaborators prepared
proposals for the expansion of clinical scientist training and
early stage translation research. These proposals were presented
to the Task Force by the NIMR Task Force members. At the same
time it was made clear that this expansion could only be achieved
to the same high standard with continued support for the Institute's
multidisciplinary basic research.
In addition NIMR submitted proposals to the
Task Force that contained plans for clinical collaborations, that
were presented to the Task Force by the Director, John Skehel,
at its fifth meeting.