Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 127

Supplementary evidence from Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council

INQUIRY INTO THE FUTURE OF NIMR

  Not least because of the serious allegations against me made by Sir John Skehel, Dr Robin Lovell-Badge and Dr Steven Gamblin, in both their written and their oral evidence to the Committee, I wish to submit further evidence that I hope the Committee will consider as it forms its judgement.

  I appreciate that the staff of NIMR, led by their Director, continue to oppose the Council of the MRC, as it works to try to implement the vision developed by the Task Force, which was unanimously endorsed by the Council. Although their tactics have been vigorous, I am appalled that they have chosen to make damaging accusations against me, presumably in the hope of influencing the S&T Committee's views about the validity of the Task Force recommendations.

  I had seen Sir John's evidence to the Committee a few days before the hearing, but he refused to send to the MRC copies of Robin Lovell-Badge's and Steve Gamblin's submissions. I therefore had no warning of their content and I saw them only after the hearing. I have replied to Sir John's submission in Annex 1, attached, and I am working on responses to the submissions from Drs Lovell-Badge and Gamblin, (Annexes 2 and 3).

  Two very serious allegations have been made:

    (1)  I am accused of "coercing" members of the Task Force to sign up to statements that did not represent their opinions or the spirit of discussion at the meetings of the Task Force. The particular example that was cited is a confidential email that I sent to Professor Steve Tomlinson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales College of Medicine, on 10 July 2004. I understand that Dr Lovell-Badge and/or Dr Gamblin have supplied to the Committee a copy of that email. However, when it is viewed in the context of the preceding message from Professor Tomlinson and his replies, and all his previous and following contributions to the discussion, it is clear that my message was not coercive. I merely encouraged him to stick to his firmly-stated position on the question of whether the Mill Hill site should be considered as a "fall-back" or "equal" option in the appraisal of possible sites for the future of the institute. I understand that Professor Tomlinson (and other Task Force members) submitted evidence to the Committee before the hearings. I hope that the Committee will examine those statements for any indication of coercion. (You will recall that Dr Gamblin said that he had not been coerced when asked during the hearings).

        I have arranged for the entire exchange of email between members of the Task Force, including all those marked "Confidential" to be forwarded to the Committee (on the understanding that confidential messages will not be put in the public domain without the permission of their authors). It will take a little time to collate the hundreds of messages, but, in the meantime, I have appended a full and annotated set of exchanges during the period when the incidents that form the basis of allegations against me are supposed to have occurred.

        The correspondence starts immediately after the important 5th meeting of the Task Force, where the bids from London Colleges and from Mill Hill were considered and the Task Force came to its conclusions, and includes the final, beyond-last-minute attempt by Dr Gamblin and Dr Lovell-Badge to introduce substantive changes into the full Report of the Task Force, against the resistance of all other Task Force members who were in contact.

        I use this opportunity to tell the Committee that I did, at several times during the work of the Task Force, feel excessively pressurised by Sir John Skehel. I had a number of conversations with him during the period of work of the Task Force and was shouted at, laughed at and derided by Sir John on almost every occasion. I had the distinct impression that Sir John felt no sense of duty towards the MRC, and he told me and others explicitly that he would fight to oppose any decision of Council with which he disagreed.

    (2)  Dr Lovell-Badge alleged during the oral presentation that I had telephoned him on a number of occasions late at night and on a Sunday afternoon, and had specifically threatened him with dismissal. I deny this categorically. The events in question were supposed to have taken place 5 months ago, yet, to my knowledge, this is the first time that Dr Lovell-Badge has made this accusation, at least publicly. You will notice that, surprisingly, the allegation was not mentioned by Dr Lovell-Badge in his written evidence.

        I am, of course, well aware of employment law, and of the strict formal procedures that have to be gone through before any employee can be dismissed. I would expect any MRC employee who is faced with a threat of constructive or vindictive dismissal immediately to lodge a grievance, and to complain to his or her union, to the MRC Director of Human Resources or to the Chairman of Council. As far as I am aware, Dr Lovell-Badge did none of these things.

        The conversation in question, which took place on 28 June, concerned the draft "Conclusions of the 5th meeting of the Task Force", which, after extensive circulation and discussion, had been agreed by the other members of the Task Force, but which Dr Lovell-Badge had recently refused to accept without the addition of a commitment to include the Mill Hill site as an active option in the options appraisal for the site of the renewed NIMR. Dr Lovell-Badge asserts that I telephoned him late at night, with the implication that I was harassing him. In reality, Dr Lovell-Badge telephoned me, at 23:30 on 28 June, rather than my phoning him (this is recorded in my email to the Task Force on p 80 of the attached correspondence)! He criticised me aggressively. I appealed to the fact he had already agreed to the Conclusions of the 5th meeting, both in the original meeting and during a subsequent telephone conference call, and that the other members of the Task Force had agreed to it.

        When asked by the S&T Committee to describe the threat of dismissal, Dr Lovell-Badge alleged that I said: "Robin, I don't know how you can disagree with me. I am your employer". This is not a threat of dismissal, but, in any case, I did not say it. As far as I can recall, the closest that I came to such a statement was to express my surprise that there should be such hostility at NIMR towards me and the MRC when the MRC owns the institute and employs most of the staff.

December 2004



 
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