Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Supplementary evidence from the National Institute for Medical Research


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 not pursued.

  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 line-manager.

  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 proposal.

  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 room.

  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 and presentation.

  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.

December 2004

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