Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


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


  In the interests of fair play, in what is looking increasingly like a judicial process, I hope that the Committee will note my responses (below) to NIMR's answers to follow-up questions.


  1.  The statement from all members of the Task Force except Robin Lovell-Badge and Steve Gamblin, which I sent to the S&T Committee on 30 November, was a shortened version of a statement (Annex 2 below) (not printed) that was circulated between all Task Force members in August. Robin Lovell-Badge and Steve Gamblin never responded to it. (The relevant email correspondence is included in the full file of all Task Force emails, already submitted to the Committee).

  The original statement was composed in response to a document from Heads of Division at NIMR that had been displayed on the NIMR website following the decision of Council at its July meeting (see Annex 1 below) (not printed). That document essentially rejected the KCL and UCL options in advance, accused me of mismanagement and said that I "persuaded the Task Force to arrive at an interpretation, by a majority of just one, in which the Mill Hill site is not an option for the long-term future". I and several other members of the Task Force were concerned about inaccuracies in this document, and about the potential damage that it might do to the negotiations with KCL and UCL. I drafted a statement and Richard Flavell circulated it to Task Force members and invited comments and editing. We arrived at the attached statement (Annex 2), containing the words "without coercion", which was explicitly agreed by five members of the Task Force (CB, KD, ST, AB and DD). The email record shows that Richard Flavell and Paul Nurse were hesitant to sign up, on the grounds that it might deepen the division between Steve Gamblin and Robin Lovell-Badge and the rest of the Task Force. Richard also argued that, since the Council had officially disbanded the Task Force, it no longer had any formal standing. No-one raised any objection to the phrase "without coercion" at that stage.

  When I saw the allegation of coercion in Sir John Skehel's initial written evidence to the S&T Committee, just a few days before the 1 December hearing, I thought that it would be valuable to obtain a statement on this issue from the other members of the Task Force. I remembered the statement that we had prepared in August, and the fact that it had already been agreed by five members. I therefore recirculated that old statement (minus the introductory sentence, which referred to the Heads of Divisions' document) to all members of the Task Force (except, initially, to Steve and Robin, on the grounds that, since they were giving evidence "against" the MRC, it was extremely unlikely that they would sign any such statement). I asked permission from those members of the Task Force to send the statement to the S&T Committee. Richard and Paul communicated with each other about this and provided the further shortened version, which I submitted to the S&T Committee on 30 November (Annex 3).

  You will know from Richard Flavell's email of 30 November that he and Paul wanted to remove the words "without coercion" on the grounds that this might make the statement less divisive and to make it possible for Robin and Steve Gamblin to sign it. At the evidence session on 20 December, Paul Nurse said: "when it came to this question of coercion again it seemed to me too pointed and I really wanted to try and get the Mill Hill members of the Task Force on board so that we had a united front over the process". I did send the revised statement to Steve and Robin as soon as I received it, but had no reply.

  Robin Lovell-Badge's outburst during the evidence session on 1 December came as a complete surprise to me. I had no warning whatever that he would make this accusation, I hope that the S&T Committee will note that he made no reference to 'phone calls, coercion or threats in his written evidence to the Committee. He never initiated a formal complaint, nor did he make any mention of this in any email to the Task Force at the time (even though he was not reticent in making other accusations, about my having a "hidden agenda", etc).

  Neither Robin nor any other member of the Task Force mentioned or complained about coercion, persuasion or lobbying at any meeting of the Task Force. (In his response to Q137 in the 20 December evidence session, Richard Flavell said: "These issues were not raised at any Task Force meeting.")

  I apologise for labouring the following discussion, but I hope that the Committee will understand that my career might be under threat as a result of this allegation from Robin. I need to describe the circumstances surrounding what I take to be the two telephone conversations that Robin refers to. (I must emphasise that, at the time of writing this I have not seen Robin's further evidence "extended in writing", which is referred to in the NIMR answers to follow-up questions. When I do see that, there might be additional points to which I ought to reply.)

  Let me respond to each of the "four main pieces of evidence of the alleged coercion of Robin Lovell-Badge"

  Point 1. (Robin's evidence in the session and extended in writing here (see attachment) indicates the background to the threat.)

  Robin said the following during the 1 December hearings:

Q86 Mr Key: What was the coercion there?

  Dr Lovell-Badge: I was in receipt of various forms of attempts at coercion, such as 'phone calls late at night threatening me with my job.

Q87 Mr Key: From whom?

  Dr Lovell-Badge: Colin Blakemore.

Q88 Chairman: How many such 'phone calls did you have?

  Dr Lovell-Badge: There were two occasions in particular, one in the spring and one after.

Q89 Chairman: Would you care to quote what he said to you?

  Dr Lovell-Badge: He made statements such as "Robin, I don't know how you can disagree with me. I am your employer."

  I hope that the S&T Committee will note that the entire allegation of threats of dismissal rests on this one suggested quotation. These words could hardly be taken as a threat of dismissal, but, in any case, I deny unequivocally having said them, or anything that could have been construed as a threat to Robin's employment.

  Robin refers to "two occasions" and identifies the first of these in his answer to Q89:

First occasion

    Dr Lovell-Badge: It transpired, in one of these 'phone calls, which was on a Sunday, that Colin Blakemore had then a vision for a future Institute which would have been considerably smaller than the current Institute, so in a sense we would have lost at least half the science going on there, including, for example, all the work that I do in stem-cells and genetics. Colin then asked me, I guess, not to talk about this, but in the way that the subsequent e-mail exchange was going about it was clear that he had a hidden agenda and he had to declare it, so this was declared on that e-mail exchange.

  The Committee will notice that there is no reference here to coercion or a threat to Robin's job—only to an idea that he disliked (and which he exaggerates in what he says here). Inspection of the email exchanges (which I have supplied to the Committee) shows that this refers to a conversation on the afternoon of Sunday 15 February.

  It is important to set the background to this call. The third full meeting of the Task Force had been held on the preceding Sunday 8 February. The agenda had included:

  Discussion of future options for NIMR:

    —  Relocate within London.

    —  Reconstitute outside London.

    —  Re-allocate funds.

    —  Distributed model.

    —  Optimise NIMR in Mill Hill.

  David Smith, Secretary to the Task Force, circulated a draft summary on Wednesday 11 February, which included the following wording:

    3.  The Task Force recognises the importance of a clear scientific focus for a new institute. It is particularly interested in exploring the possibility, among others, of adding to existing basic science strengths from NIMR those research disciplines in clinical and health services research that will facilitate the translation of findings into clinical practice for the benefit of patients. A suitable name might be National Institute for Human Health. This could entail significant partnership working with other institutions under an appropriate governance structure.

    4.  At the start of its work, the Task Force recognised the difficulty of moving to a location away from London those parts of the work of NIMR that it would want to keep intact.

  Robin Lovell-Badge immediately replied, with, amongst other points, the following:

    Point 3: I was not under the impression that it was going to be a new Institute, but one that will continue its evolution, although perhaps in an accelerated fashion with additions that will capitalise on the current strengths. To use "new" at this stage will be an exaggeration and it will unsettle the present staff.

    The idea of a new name for the Institute was only brought up at the end of the meeting and with no time for reflection and little opportunity for comment.

    Point 4: As we did not at any time discuss which parts of the Institute should be kept intact and which should not, or even if this was something we should discuss given that there is no criticism of current research at NIMR, it would be very misleading to say that: "the Task Force recognised the difficulty of moving to a location away from London those parts of the work of NIMR that it would want to keep intact." Indeed this is likely to provoke a riot. It was simply concluded that the Institute should not be broken up.

  There was also email input from Steve Gamblin, Richard Flavell, Steve Tomlinson and Alison Spaull. David and I spoke to Robin on the 'phone. I spoke to Paul Nurse, who agreed to new wording for the summary. So did Kay Davies and Dick Denton, whom David and I spoke to that day. The revised version, circulated on Thursday 12 February, contained the following:

    2.  The Task Force argues that there is a good case for a national institute, building on a core of present NIMR science, with a newly-focused mission that explicitly addresses:

    —  training and professional development in life sciences and health research; and

    —    helping translate basic research findings into clinical practice and/or into industrial application;

    and that shares its facilities and training environment with the UK life sciences and health research communities, and forms close partnerships with other institutions throughout the UK.

    3.  The Task Force recognises the importance of a clear and definitive scientific focus for the new institute. It is particularly interested in exploring the possibility, among others, of adding to existing basic science strengths from NIMR those disciplines in clinical and health sciences research that will facilitate the translation of findings into clinical practice for the benefit of patients. In these circumstances, a new name might be appropriate, such as National Institute for Human Health. This could entail significant partnership working with other institutions under an appropriate governance structure.

  The next day, Robin wrote again with the following objection:

    "There may be some confusion matching `options that build on a multi-disciplinary research institute model' in paragraph 1 with `The Task Force recognises the importance of a clear and definitive scientific focus for the institute' in paragraph 3, the latter implying a move away from multidisciplinarity."

  David responded:

    "I am now a bit worried that we are moving away from the original point. While the word `focus' perhaps doesn't have a very precise meaning in this context, I had understood that we had agreed that in addition to the training and translation missions in para 2, we need to be clear what the scientific mission is going to be—and that this was what was meant by the phrase `scientific focus'.

    I can see the clarity in the word `portfolio', but Robin's suggested wording could imply that once agreed neither MRC nor Director could change the areas of research being pursued in the institute."

  This was followed by further objections from Steve Gamblin but support from Steve Tomlinson. At 18:13 on Friday 13/10/2004, I wrote to Steve Tomlinson:

    Dear Steve,

    I agree completely with these thoughts.

    It is such a disappointment to see what seems to be suspicion and doubt about opportunity and challenge. The correspondence following our last meeting seems so different in tone from the discussion at the meeting itself—and so much more divided.

    I begin to wonder whether we, the Task force, can complete our job.

    Have a good weekend.

    Yours despondently,


  Steve Tomlinson replied at 20:02 on Friday 13 February:

    Dear Colin, Thanks. Having been through our merger discussions with Cardiff University over the last two years and experienced cycles of despondency and (relative!) euphoria, I know that suspicion and distrust are almost always a result of poor communication, misunderstanding or a mixture of both(for example the College of Medicines insistence on using and protecting the name "College of Medicine" post merger was interpreted as us wanting to "take over" Bioscience, Vision Science, Psychology and Pharmacy in Cardiff University and call the whole thing "the Wales College of Medicine"; this was failure of communication and misunderstanding of something that was precious to the College—just the name! Subsequently, we found that the way forward is absolute openness, frankness and robust dialogue.

    I do think it essential the key players open up, cards on table now. Maybe email is not good enough for this kind of dialogue. If there's anything I can do to help us move on let me know,

    Yours optimistically!


    PS All non-confidential

  I wrote again to Steve Tomlinson at 16:23 on Sunday 15 February:

    Dear Steve,

    Thank you for your characteristically straightforward and constructive response.

    I had hoped that nine months of attempts to reassure the staff of NIMR would have built their confidence in me and in the process that we have in place to look openly, honestly, compassionately but rigorously at the future of the institute. I say nine months, because I first visited Mill Hill last spring, within days of the announcement of my appointment at the MRC, and I have been going there, as well as having meetings with individuals and groups from Mill Hill in other locations, at regular intervals ever since. I think that I have visited NIMR six times, to discuss with staff and to look around labs and facilities. Yet, when I spoke at a meeting of the MRC AUT the other day, one of the six members of NIMR staff present asked why I was going on roadshows to universities in the UK but never visited NIMR! Indeed, the level of hostility that I am encountering from some staff at NIMR is a real shock. What have I done, or not done, that justifies the continuing suspicion?

    I had really thought that we achieved a breakthrough in the Task Force's meeting last Sunday. So it was doubly disappointing to see the retreat from any mention of change in some of the responses to the draft report.

    I fear that the TF is not fully aware of the reality of the financial constraints on the final decision that others will ultimately have to make, after we make our recommendations—constraints that I myself have only come to understand fully during the past couple of months. I am planning to write a note to the TF later today to try to make the position clear.

    The work of the TF has already consumed a huge amount of the time of busy people, as well as quite a lot of public money. Before we spend more time and money, I think that we should ask ourselves, seriously, whether we have any chance of being able to achieve a consensus. If not, perhaps we should plan to have just one more meeting, and then present two brief reports—from the majority and the minority, and let the Council, RCUK and the OST decide what has to be done.

    You are so right about openness and the need for "cards on the table". If the only outcome of our deliberations that is acceptable to some members of the TF is that NIMR must remain exactly as it is, except for significant extra investment, I think that we should all know that now. It could save us a lot of time.

    I'll write again soon.

    Best wishes,


  At 17:02 that Sunday, I sent the following confidential message to Robin and the entire Task Force:

    Dear All,

    I am replying to Robin's latest comments on the draft statement, but I also want to convey some thoughts to the Task Force as a whole.

    First, for Robin: I don't see a contradiction between "multi-disciplinary" and "focus". For instance, the work involved in the development of MRI was certainly "focused", but it required expertise in physics, engineering, computing, physiology, clinical medicine, etc, etc. Let me put it another way. Would you be happy with a recommendation that the new institute should be "unfocused"?

    Now, I want to make a point to the whole Task Force, about why it so important that we should record the need for "focus".

    The Task Force is, of course, empowered to come to its own conclusions and make its own preferred recommendation to MRC Council. But we must remember that the final decision will be made by the Council, which will make a proposal to the Office of Science and Technology (OST) and Research Councils UK (RCUK), in the context of the whole MRC portfolio, indeed the whole of UK science, and in the cold light of funding implications.

    I strongly recommend that we all take a reality check at this point.

    I meant to convey this to you when I told you all, at the start of last Sunday's meeting, that the MRC will not be able, given all the demands on its resources, to increase its financial commitment to NIMR (already more than £27 million per annum) significantly in the future. We haven't received information about the cost implications of maintaining and improving the present building at Mill Hill, but it would surely involve a good deal of money within the 10-year time-frame. On the 20-year scale, even if the institute were to stay at Mill Hill, substantial building work would probably be needed. In my opinion, and with knowledge of the huge demands on the "Large Facilities Roadmap" of RCUK, I just can't imagine that a proposal to spend lots of capital money on the institute would be successful without very strong arguments about how its work is going to be focused so as to strengthen the MRC portfolio, to complement the rest of the MRC's work and, preferably, to enable the MRC to do new things that it presently cannot do. I'm sorry to put these constraining thoughts in the minds of the Task Force, but if we want our recommendations to be taken seriously, we have to be realistic.

    You have seen from the tone of the QQR of the Research Councils that, for the OST, institutes are not the immediately preferred form of research funding. That is why research councils have to ask, whenever an institute is strategically reviewed, whether its mission could be achieved in some other way.

    I was, then, delighted by the direction and spirit of our discussion last Sunday. We were all able to agree unanimously that institutes can still be valuable, because of the special opportunities for building capacity and the strong environment for research that they can provide, and we were therefore about to reject the dissolution option. For the first time, I sensed that we were all willing to support a plan for something innovative and exciting—a plan that might be persuasive to the Council, RCUK and the OST.

    And that is why I am so disappointed to see some members of the TF denying that words like "new" and "focus" were even used last Sunday, and denying that we discussed and did not reject a possible change of name.

    Let me be blunt. I do not think that a proposal to maintain ALL the existing work of NIMR intact and to add new research to it, with a need for considerable capital investment, will be acceptable to those who will, in the end, make the decision. And I don't think that it will be possible (even if desirable) to keep an unchanged Mill Hill going, within the existing budget, on the 10 to 20-year time-scale.

    We have constantly acknowledged and sympathised with the anxieties of the staff at NIMR. But that concern can not be the only factor determining our recommendation. If it were, we need not have spent so much time and public money. We could simply have recommended immediately that nothing can possibly be changed for fear of upsetting someone. But there is no chance that such a recommendation would be accepted.

    In the long run, it would be more damaging to NIMR and its staff to make an unacceptable recommendation than to make a well-argued, focused proposal that preserves intact the most relevant work of NIMR and which has a chance of being implemented.

    Best wishes,


  Kay Davies immediately replied:

    Dear Colin,

    I agree with what you say.

    I think everyone in the TF at last Sunday's meeting thought we had made real progress including Robin and Steve. The problem came afterwards because of the sensitivities of the NIMR staff. I discussed this with Robin yesterday. In order to move forward and be open, we are bound to upset various interested parties and these may not always be only at NIMR.

    I am very much in favour of openness. Whatever the final conclusion, the way in which we arrive at it must be seen to be fair and rigorous. NIMR staff are already thinking about a future with change. I am sure we can carry them with us without worrying about every word after every meeting. There has to be an element of trust and as you say, we need to recommend a realistic option if we are not to have wasted our time.

    The TF is fortunate in having so many international players on it with so many different experiences of running the best science and individuals who are working at the clinical interace.

    Best wishes,


  Closely followed by Steve Tomlinson:

    Dear Colin, Thanks. I agree. Three comments:

    (1)  We do need a reality check on what's possible. For a whole range of reasons—financial, political etc, status quo is a non-starter.

    (2)  We all need to reflect on both the spirit and content of last Sunday's meeting, which seems to have been forgotten in subsequent correspondence.

    (3)  As I mentioned last Sunday, but perhaps with insufficient emphasis, perhaps all of us should revisit the MRC's "Vision for the Future" 2003 (on the web-site) to see what the MRC Council will be looking for, from any continuing investment of more than A£25 million/annum plus substantial additional capital. If what is to be proposed doesn't map explicitly to that vision, the Council and other key players, Treasury included will simply say "think again"; the TF will have no credibility and our work and public money will have been wasted.

    (4)  Finally, I personally have reflected on the position that Dick Denton and I share as "provincial lads" and non-golden triangle participants in all of this. I have to say that we've recognised the importance of the National Institute to the future of UK Biomedical and Health Sciences research (as have our overseas colleagues),and we have spoken up for it. After last Sunday's meeting, I was convinced we were on the way. I expected that Current NIMR folk would be relieved and delighted at this wonderful new opportunity. Naturally, I'm bemused and disappointed.

    So naturally, it wouldn't be surprising to hear that I'm now having second thoughts! If we don't see a much more positive and visionary future for OUR National Institute emerging from the TF, why shouldn't we act from enlightened self-interest too?


  Strengthened by these expressions of support, I did indeed call Robin on his mobile phone that Sunday afternoon, 15 February. (PLEASE NOTE that Robin had given me his mobile number so that I could contact him outside office hours). I asked if he was free to talk and he readily agreed. The conversation was not at all acrimonious, and there was no hint of a threat in anything that I said. Robin was, however, clearly resistant to any discussion about "focus" for the renewed institute. I explained to him my concerns about the financial constraints on any recommendations the Task Force might make. I reminded him that the Terms of Reference of the Task Force included consideration of the size of the future institute and that we could not simply assume that it must be at least as large as it currently is. I reminded him that we had explicitly discussed how large an institute would have to be in order to maintain interdisciplinarity and had agreed that 500 or more staff would be appropriate (NIMR currently has about 750). I pointed out that I thought it was very unlikely that the Council would be willing to increase the recurrent funding envelope of NIMR and that, if we were to recommend a greater capacity to support short-term visiting scientists using the facilities of NIMR (a "research hotel" function) it might not be possible to sustain a core staff as large as at present. I asked Robin for his views about whether there is an irreducible core of research in the current NIMR and I said that it seemed to me that the work on infection and immunity, supported by structural biology, is the central core. Robin did express great concern at any suggestion that the institute might be reduced in size, especially if it involved a reduction in genetics and developmental biology—his own areas of work.

  Robin, in his evidence to the S&T committee, said: "Colin then asked me, I guess, not to talk about this". This is absolutely untrue. Indeed, Robin did wrote about our conversation in the following message, copied to the entire Task Force, sent at 20:32, that same evening. PLEASE NOTE that there is no hint in this message of threats or coercion. Indeed, it is entirely concerned with Robin's attempts to persuade me of his position ("I am wasting too much of my time on this if you are not going to listen. I have just spent an hour on the 'phone with you telling you . . .").

    Dear Colin

    I really think I am wasting too much of my time on this if you are not going to listen. I have just spent an hour on the 'phone with you telling you, in what I thought was a very clear and straightforward way, that I and Steve and the vast majority of the Institute will not be worried about the prospect of change and that indeed they would welcome it. This is especially true if they are brought into the discussions and asked for their ideas and to help plan the future of the Institute. Indeed, I think they would be very keen to do this. The staff at the Institute is always looking for ways to improve things, we are certainly not retreating from the idea of change or any any mention of change. I have not done a survey of staff to ask how many would be willing to move to a central London location if it became clear that this would be the best option, but I bet it would be a significant majority. They would certainly enjoy planning for this. Do you really think that scientists of the quality of Justin Molloy and Anne O'Garra, or our excellent tenure track people such as James Briscoe, chose to move to NIMR because they thought it was stuck-in-the mud? It is a progressive place full of scientists wishing to do cutting edge research. What leads you to think otherwise?

    So I find this message to Steve T, which I note you have made non-confidential to be a travesty. It does not represent my views and it is extremely unhelpful. You risk destroying the process if you will not listen. It is perhaps bizarre, but I have no problem whatsoever with your subsequent confidential message and the reply from Kay. I totally agree.

    As I have said on the phone to you twice now and to David once, I was worried about the original draft report for four reasons. First, I did not think it adequately represented the positive and unanimous conclusions we had reached. By deciding to carry forward options 1 and 2a, I felt, as I think everyone else did, that we would be able to positively engage everyone at the Institute. Secondly, the draft was a little misleading in that the choice of some words and phrases suggested that we had reached additional conclusions that we had not (more on this below). I do not think that changing the name of the Institute would compromise my ability to do good research, I really do not care about this. But others might, and I do not mean those at NIMR. It is essentially a trademark name that has been used for many years, so there needs to be some thought given to any change, which it definitely was not at the meeting. But, in any case there is no point in you ranting on about this as I am entirely happy with the way this is now worded in the report.

    Thirdly, I questioned the use of some words like "new" and "focus" because I felt I could not justify or explain these in the context they were being used, to either the staff at NIMR or to members of the public (or media) if I was asked. I made a few simple suggestions which I felt were more neutral, such as "Institute with a new look" or "portfolio" simply to make it easier to explain to others the conclusions of last Sunday's meeting. I suppose we can have a focus on multidisciplinarity, but I thought this was simply a peculiar use of English, when focus usually implies narrowing down on something. My suggestions were in no way intended to send you off the deep-end and threaten to change the agreed process of the Task Force.

    Lastly, I was indeed worried about the sensitivity of the staff at NIMR to the original sentence in the draft report: "At the start of its work, the Task Force recognised the difficulty of moving to a location away from London those parts of the work of NIMR that it would want to keep intact." Perhaps I was being over-sensitive, thinking that this might be interpreted to mean that we had already discussed the idea of losing parts of the current Institute and what these might be. Steve and I are expected as part of our Task Force duties to present to the Institute the outcome of our deliberations. We have not had a discussion on the Task Force about losing parts of the Institute or restricting it to a core of current activity. I therefore can not present this part of the report to my colleagues. If it is simply to say that perhaps not everyone can stay at the newly constituted Institute, and who does will be based on a scientific and strategic case that they themselves will actively participate in drawing up, then this will not be a problem. But if you, Colin, have not adequately explained the background in which you are operating, or if you have another hidden agenda as to which parts of the Institute should stay or go, then this is unacceptable. It this that will compromise our ability to reach a consensus.

    As for me, I have no doubt that we can reach a consensus if we are all open and playing with the same set of cards.


  At 21:39, Kay Davies responded:

    Dear Robin,

    I think your response makes moving forward difficult. At this stage we merely have an overview, we are a long way from details. We cannot remain at this level of analysis as this will seriously inhibit progress. Trying to move forward with a vision (or several scenarios) and then working out the detailed feasability of any option will at least guarantee that every option (including ones we have not even suggested yet) will be considered. I am certain in my own mind that there is no "hidden agenda". This is based on several conversations with Colin, particularly one in the car on the way back to Oxford last week.

    Best wishes,


  And at 22:44, only a couple of hours after the phone conversation, Robin replied to Kay (NOTE—not a mention of threats or coercion):

    Dear Kay

    Please do not misinterpret me. I agree that we are a long way from details and that this is what we need to make a start on, indeed I had hoped we would have been given the go-ahead by now to let the Institute know what was concluded at the last meeting. I am keen to get everyone on board as soon as possible, but we still do not have approval to tell anyone. Moreover, I am not being intractable on the wording of the report—in my last message I was just spelling out why I expressed concern over the choice of some phrases when David had specifically asked for comments. I am not the one who has been going overboard with this. I am just saying that I might not be able to explain everything that is in the report to members of the Institute or to others. And with respect to hidden agendas, I will leave it to Colin to tell everyone what his vision of the future Institute is, as expressed to me over the `phone today, and which parts of the Institute he believes are important to keep.


  At 00:51 on Monday 16 February, I wrote to the whole Task Force:

    Dear All,

    I am responding immediately to Robin's suggestion that I should tell everyone my "vision of the future Institute". I spoke at length today to Robin, following up briefer conversations during the week. I tried to explain the constraints that there are on our recommendations, as spelled out in my longer email of today. I don't have a firm "vision of the future Institute", but I did outline a POSSIBLE scenario that I have been thinking about, and which I believe might have a chance of arousing enthusiasm (from those currently at NIMR, as well as the rest of the biomedical community, and even the OST and the Treasury).

    I have said many times until now that there has been absolutely no hidden agenda on my part, and that I have had a completely open mind. That is completely true. I have been happy to listen to all the arguments and to weigh up the evidence. However, as a result of our conversations (particularly those last Sunday) and the many other discussions in which I am involved (especially the Pattison working party on clinical research and the negotiations about the spending review proposals) I am beginning to form a preliminary view—though by no means fixed. I hope that it won't be seen as Machiavellian to be forming an opinion as a result of hearing evidence!

    I should be amazed if others around the table aren't starting to get a feel for what the new (if I dare use that word) institute might look like. In fact, I suspect that most people have much clearer views than mine.

    Just to avoid the accusation that my "agenda" is hidden, let me spell out my present thoughts.

    1.  As I said in my earlier message, I have been convinced by all the evidence that a vibrant institute, with highly motivated staff, excellent facilities, and good space and support for training, meetings and research experience for people from around the country (not to mention from abroad) could benefit the MRC and the biomedical community as a whole.

    2.  Expenditure on renovation at Mill Hill over the past couple of decades has been modest, and I suspect that we shall discover that, in the 20 year timeframe that we are considering, considerable capital investment would be needed to keep it going. Frankly, I think that the buiding feels tired and even a bit forbidding. If we were to recommend that the institute should stay at Mill Hill, I think that we would have to recommend a new building or very major renovation within a decade or so. Maybe the reports from the surveyors will prove me wrong.

    3.  If we were starting from scratch today, I don't think that we would be proposing that a new institute should be put on the Mill Hill site. Proximity to the fantastic university and hospital resources of central London looks very attractive. But I still have an open mind on that, and it obviously depends on the availability of a site, etc.

    4.  It will be impossible to go to RCUK and the government and ask for a large amount of extra capital investment without a scientific programme for the institute (wherever it is) that is focused, fits the MRC Vision, complements the rest of the activity in other MRC establishments, offers benefit to the whole community—and couldn't be achieved in any other way.

    5.  I think that the best route to new funding is to capitalise on the current enthusiasm for clinical research/translation, and to make that a major part of the new institute. The proposal to add such work seems to have been unanimously welcomed by the TF. For that to succeed, close proximity to hospitals and/or industrial facilities would be an advantage. A new name, such as Institute for Human Health, would symbolise a focus on translation and would certainly make it easier to persuade others that the institute is genuinely refocusing its work in a way that will resonate with the emphasis on clinical science. But that was really only a suggestion.

    6.  If we are to set up a strong training/research hotel environment (with substantial throughput of shorter-term visitors/students) we shall have to look carefully at staffing levels. (Don't forget that our terms of reference require us to look at "size" as well as location). That means considering which parts of the present NIMR would most clearly belong in the new institute. What I said to Robin was that I feel that the work that would most obviously complement and link with the proposed clinical element is that on infection and immunity. An emphasis on vaccine development might help to pull in Gates money. I then said that, if the general scenario does prove attractive to the TF, we should have to think and listen to arguments about which of the other areas of work would fit into the vision. I hope and presume that, whatever way our deliberations move, we shall, at some stage have to get down to deciding on that "size" question, which will involve choosing what we think should be in the institute (in 10-20 years time). Think evolution—but slightly more punctuated than in the past.

    7.  I also told Robin that, if, as I think likely, we are not going to be able to recommend that absolutely everything in the present NIMR will be preserved in the new institute, we can still try to provide the best possible future for the rest of the work elsewhere. Let's not forget that there are going to be several retirements in the coming years. That alone gives us some space for planning.

    There you are: that's the way my own thoughts have moved in the past few days. But my mind is by no means made up, and anyway I'm only one member of the TF. I am honestly not trying to force my opinions on you. But I think that it is right to reveal my present thoughts now in the interests of openness, and to make sure that I can't be accused of having hidden plans.

    We've spent a lot of time talking together, and we've considered a lot of evidence. I'm presuming that you all have views, or at least, like me, are beginning to form them. I hope that other members of the TF will feel ready to open up a bit, in the interests of frank, honest exchange of views.

    I suppose that this has to be confidential, but I wish that it wasn't so. If only we had the kind of buy-in from NIMR staff that I had hoped we would achieve by now, we could be more open, and involve them in frank but positive discussion about how the institute should evolve.

    Best wishes,


  At 08:00, Steve Tomlinson wrote:

    Colin, Thanks.Steve

  At 08:01, Kay Davies:

    Dear Colin,

    This is helpful. Thanks

    Best wishes,


  And, to my surprise, at 11:02, Robin wrote:

    Dear Steve T and Kay

    I agree with both of you.

    Many thanks


  At 14:18 on Tuesday 17 February, David Smith circulated a further revised version of the summary:

    Dear Colleagues

    I am writing in the hope that we might now achieve consensus for the final text of the conclusions of the last Task Force meeting.

    I have been catching up on the weekend exchanges but more importantly I have had a long discussion with Colin this morning. As a result, I attach version 1.2 which incorporates Colin's latest suggestions. I have also taken the liberty of proposing some more changes in the light of Colin's views and picking up helpful comments from others.

    The main points to draw to your attention are as follows:

    #2:  use of the phrase "renewed institute", to replace the previous references to "newly-focused mission" and "new institute". We have retained "scientific focus" rather than use "portfolio" because the latter implies within the MRC a rather more specific description of the science than I am sure you all had in mind;

    #3:  I have reversed the previous paragraphs 3 and 4 so that location comes first in the note. This better reflects what the Task Force decided and I hope is an appropriate response to some of your comments about focusing on the two location options. I have also changed the order of presenting the factors on which the location decision has been taken, putting the clinical access point last (the point is, I guess, incontestable, but we need to remain aware that a different group previously saw advantages to Cambridge on among factors clinical ones);

    new #4:  I have made it still clearer that the name is a suggestion. I have also taken the opportunity to insert MRC before the suggested name!

    Colin is very anxious that we should be able to put this into the public domain as quickly as possible (and I guess Robin and Steve(G) will feel the same way as far as NIMR staff are concerned). Could I have responses as soon as you have read this? We need to go out with this tomorrow at the latest.

    Best wishes


  Robin promptly replied:

    This new version is OK for me. Steve G is away, and I can not contact him, but I am sure he would agree.


  Robin made no other reference to the Sunday afternoon telephone call, nor gave any hint of the conversation being coercive or threatening, until his evidence to the S&T Committee.

Occasion 2

  The second "threatening" phone call was identified by Robin in the rest of his reply to Q89:

    The next big occasion, there were several occasions and one was after the final Task Force meeting when the report of that meeting had been drafted. It had been drafted in the light of the spirit of the agreement that we had at that meeting, which was that the central London bids needed to be compared with the Mill Hill option. Really before the report was finalised Colin Blakemore contacted both King's and UCL representatives and told them, essentially, that it was a straight fight between the two of them. It was at that point that I put a block on the report being published, because I felt this was certainly not in the spirit of the agreement that we had at the meeting, which was that any option to move the Institute clearly had to be better than what was at Mill Hill, which of course implicitly requires a comparison with Mill Hill.

  The circumstances surrounding this telephone conversation, late on Monday, 28 June, are fully revealed in the dossier of communications already supplied to the S&T Committee. They show that, contrary to what Robin said in front of the Committee, the Conclusions of the fifth meeting of the Task Force were not only "drafted" at the meeting on 21 June, but were actually AGREED by all present, including Robin. And I was specifically instructed to communicate the gist of the document to the representatives of the London Colleges and to John Skehel, who had made presentations to the Task Force. Indeed, when David Smith wrote to the Task Force two days after the meeting to suggest a small change proposed by the Director of the Clinical Sciences Centre, to clarify the description of its work, Robin immediately objected to any modification:

    Dear David

    Changes made like this are unacceptable and far more likely to "undermine the credibility of the exercise". Please call me: ***


  In fact, further small changes, some of them from Robin himself, were made over the course of the following four days, and, at a conference telephone call on Friday 25 June, all present, including Robin, agreed every word of the document. There was growing urgency to complete the statement (in order to communicate with NIMR staff and the unions, and to respond to media enquiries, as well as to supply the document in full to the London Colleges). At 14:51 on the 25, I wrote to the Task Force:

    Dear Colleagues,

    First, with our last full meeting behind us, I wanted to thank you all for the huge amount of work that you have done for the Task Force and for NIMR. Even more, I thank you for the spirit of compromise that made it possible (against all my expectations, I have to admit) for us to reach a unanimous recommendation.

    Now, to the question of the exact wording of our summary. We have just completed today's telephone conference call, and all the participants agreed to the form of words in the attached version. I am nervous about the delay caused by the exchange of ideas about further small changes in the text, and I am very anxious to get closure on a version that deviates as little as possible from the intention and the text of the original. As soon as I had received acceptance of that original version from Alan, Paul and Kay, I started, as promised, to contact the people who came to present to us. I have spoken to all of them except John Skehel (whom I still haven't been able to track down, despite many attempts), and, although I didn't actually send them the text, I did read chunks of it to them over the phone. Moreover, since it had already been approved by everyone, I sent copies of the original to the Chairman of the MRC and to Sir Keith O'Nions (Director General of Research Councils), which means that it is probably already circulating in Whitehall. Needless to say, I want to be able to send out our definitive (and minimally corrected) version as soon as possible.

    Now, I accept the blame for having opened up the opportunity for further editing by sending the paragraph comparing the mission of the future NIMR with those of LMB and CSC, as a courtesy, to Richard Henderson and Chris Higgins. Chris Higgins thought that it would be more correct to emphasise complementarity rather than difference of mission between NIMR and CSC. But Robin criticised the revised version, because it spelled out particular strengths in a way that didn't reflect the overlap in certain areas. I have now redrafted that section without reference to specific areas: Chris is entirely happy with this and so too were Paul, Steve G and Robin (in the telephone conference call). The attached version also reinstates the original wording in the paragraph about the mission for NIMR, including "It will be distinctive for its systems approach . . ."

    Then we received Richard F's suggestions, with which Robin, Dick and the two Steves agreed in their emails. I have spoken to Richard on the phone and he confirmed that his intention was to emphasise the importance of obtaining very attractive proposals from King's and UCL. But I pointed out that the changes (eg "will" to "could") might give the impression that we weren't confident about our preference for a move to central London, as long as the arrangements are clearly attractive. Richard agreed to a few tiny changes in his editing (although he did want me to point out that he had only heard them over the phone), and these are included in the attached, final (I hope) draft. Finally, I have incorporated Robin's suggestion of changing `will' to `would' in the last sentence, on the same grounds.

    This was all approved during the conference call today.

    Since these changes have now been discussed and accepted without further concern by several members of the TF, and since I must send corrected versions as soon as possible to replace the ones I have circulated, and since the NIMR staff are anxious to see the definitive document, I ask you all to accept the attached version without further changes.

    With the agreement of those in the conference call today, I am setting a deadline of 17:00, UK time, next Monday, 28 June, for replies to this message. If you are happy with the document, there is no need to reply: I shall take silence as compliance. If you do reply, please copy your message to the whole TF, so that we shall all know if there is to be any further discussion—but I pray that there won't be!

    If there has been no objection by 17:00 next Monday, we shall consider our report to be a public document and you are all at liberty to distribute it as you wish. In particular, Robin and Steve will want to circulate it to Mill Hill staff. I shall also be contacting all staff to offer to come and talk to them, accompanied by Steve and Robin. And I shall, no doubt, soon be seeing the Mill Hill Action Group.

    As far as the media are concerned, I hope that you will give no comment before next Monday evening, but as soon as the document is agreed, you are at liberty to talk to journalists. I hope that we can agree to convey to the media the sense of optimism and commitment that we reached by the end of the last TF meeting. I have no doubt that the media will try to discover residual differences of opinion, and to give impressions of discontent within the TF. I hope that we can all take pleasure in demonstrating our solidarity and in conveying our confidence and optimism for the future of NIMR. I shall work with our press office on a few bullet points on the lines that I should like to take with the media and I'll try to circulate them to you on Monday, in the hope that you will be willing to note them. Of course, you are all at liberty to refer media enquiries to the MRC press office if you wish. The contact number there is *** (or ***) or ***.

    Best wishes,


  I managed to contact Sir John Skehel late that afternoon and I read out to him the whole of the Conclusions document. As I described in the following message, his reaction was extremely abusive and he said that he would do everything in his power to override the Task Force recommendation that a move to central London should be the preferred option.

  Some Task Force members replied over the weekend to say that they were satisfied with the report, but at 12:53 on Monday 28 June, after having spoken to Sir John Skehel, Robin wrote as follows:

    Dear All

    I know many of you seem content with the Summary as written, but after what was said at the conference call on Friday and a weekend to reflect on everything, I feel strongly that it still does not make it sufficiently clear that Mill Hill remains a valid option to which the other bids have to be compared. This was clearly the spirit in which we came to an agreement at the last meeting. It has to be obvious to both Kings and UCL that this the case —and it certainly is not at present. It also has to be obvious from the point of view of following process—remember we discussed this as laid down in the Governments "Green Book".

    Best wishes


  I immediately wrote to the rest of the Task Force, including the following:

    I suspect that John has been putting pressure on Robin, because when I called John to communicate our views, he was extraordinarily aggressive and told me that we were mad not to put the Mill Hill site above all others. He pressed me on whether Mill Hill is acceptable as a "fall-back" option. I said that we hadn't seriously discussed the longer-term consequences if we failed to get attractive enough offers from UCL and KCL, but we had said that NIMR should be supported at Mill Hill, and some of the structural changes should begin, in the short term.

    I have tried to reach Robin on the phone, and left a message on his voice mail. But I think that he would (as on previous occasions when he has raised last-minute objections like this) be more responsive to objections from other members of the TF. If you, like me, feel that it is unreasonable to demand substantive changes of emphasis at this stage, please write to say so.

    I have to say that if it is not possible to persuade Robin of this, we might have to accept a majority report rather than a unanimous one, but I hope that Robin will avoid this, in the interests of morale at Mill Hill . . .

  At 14:03, Steve Tomlinson wrote:

    Robin, I really cannot accept further change to a summary to which the TF agreed. Fundamentally, as far as I'm concerned the TF signed up to a Central London location for the renewed Institute; we narrowed it down to UCL or KCL with a managed transition from Mill Hill to one or the other,


  At 15:35, Kay Davies:

    Just one more thought. Since we are all enthusiastic about the central London possibilities, the summary can stay as it is without further discussion as we clearly think that the new opportunities are exciting and feasible. I favour no further change.

    Best wishes,


  And at 17:03, Richard Flavell:

    I also approve it,


  I left a total of three voicemail messages on Robin's telephone (he was not in his office or lab) and, at 18:31, I wrote him the following message, copied to the Task Force:

    Dear Robin,

    It is now past 17:00 and everything was set to distribute our summary—until your message arrived.

    There have now been messages from Dick Denton, Kay, Steve T and Richard Flavell (in addition to this one of mine), all saying that we are happy with the summary as it is. Moreover, I am quite clear from my recollection of the discussion, and the subsequent word-by-word review of the text of the summary, that, as Steve T put it: "the TF signed up to a Central London location for the renewed Institute; we narrowed it down to UCL or KCL with a managed transition from Mill Hill to one or the other". To rewrite the summary at this stage to give the impression that we saw Mill Hill as an exactly equal option would, in my view, misrepresent the views of the TF (or at least the five of us who have responded so far).

    The press office here has a list of media people pressing to see the report. As I said, the original version, which we all agreed to, has gone to the OST and to the Chairman of Council, and the gist of it has been transmitted to all those who presented to us. To have to enter protracted negotiation about such a substantive change of emphasis now would be embarrassing for me, and, I think, damaging to the image of the TF. And, given the firmness of response from a majority of the membership, I doubt whether such a change would be accepted.

    I appeal to you, Robin, to withdraw this request, but if you will not do so, given the strength of reaction, I think that we no choice but to abandon the statement that this is a unanimous report and simply say that it represents the views of the majority. I think that would make us all very sad, and would also greatly diminish the impact of our report. Please remember that it will be the Council that makes the final decision and if our recommendation is less than unanimous, it might increase the chances that the Council follows some other course altogether, or re-opens the entire process of review.

    Robin, could you please let me know as soon as possible how you want us to proceed? Unfortunately, I am out of the office for the next two days (at RCUK meetings in Swindon and at the opening of the Mary Lyon Centre) but I shall check email from time to time. You (and other on the TF) can reach me on my mobile—07802 291059. If I don't hear from you by tomorrow evening, I think that I must change the wording to state that the report is only a majority view and distribute it.

    I have my fingers crossed.

    Best wishes,


  At 19:13, Robin wrote this reply:

    Dear All

    It was my clear impression at the meeting, that we would only ensure the best bids from Kings and UCL for a move into central London if the option of staying at Mill Hill was still on the table. Colin has seemingly lost all bargaining power by telling both UCL and Kings that the Institute will definitely move to one or other of them. By ruling out the possibility of the Institute staying at Mill Hill, which he also stated in his conversation with John Skehel on Friday and very clearly on my answering machine today, neither UCL nor Kings will feel the need to match what the MRC already has, let alone what is possible to do here. This is a big mistake and I feel that the only way it can now be rectified is by spelling out in the report that the Mill Hill option is still a possibility. I would have gone along with the report as it was if I felt confident that the spirit of our agreement would hold, but Colin appears to be following a different agenda. This is why I am now being difficult over it.


  At 23:30 that evening Robin telephoned me. He was immediately extremely abusive and accused me of pursuing my own agenda. I reminded him that he had agreed to the Conclusions document both during the meeting, a week before, and at the conference call the preceding Friday. I told him that I was shocked by the ferocity of Sir John Skehel's reaction to the Conclusions document and asked him whether he had spoken to John. He said that he had.

  Far from threatening him if he would not agree to the document or coercing him to do so, I made the suggestion (which I had ALREADY put to him and the rest of the Task Force in my earlier emails) that we could release the statement as a majority view and record his disagreement. But he continued to be abusive and critical, saying that I had deliberately not allowed enough discussion of the Mill Hill option at the Task Force meeting. I then said that, since he had obviously lost confidence in me as chairman, I would offer to stand aside and would ask for someone else to take over.

  This conversation was somewhat "heated"—hardly surprising in the circumstances—but the hostility originated from Robin, who phoned me, very late at night, and immediately poured abuse on me. And at no point during this or any other conversation did I say anything that could possibly have been construed as a threat to Robin Lovell-Badge.

  At 23:49, I wrote to Richard Flavell and the rest of the Task Force (NOTE the description of the 23:30 phone call from Robin and the suggestion that we should release the statement on behalf of only the majority):

    Dear Richard,

    Thank you for these thoughts. I agree completely that we mustn't give the London institutions the impression that we are unconcerned about the quality of the offers that they make. So, I made it crystal clear to UCL and KCL, when I spoke to them, that they would have to come up with extremely attractive offers for them to be taken seriously by the Council. They know that they are locked in competition with each other to deliver the better bid. But what I did not say to them, and what I was not empowered to say by the TF, was that we were equally keen to keep the institute at Mill Hill. I just read out the relevant section of our agreed report "The Task Force maintains that this vision will be best delivered through an intramural research institute on a single site. The Task Force believes that moving NIMR to central London in partnership with a leading university and hospital—on a suitable site, with appropriate governance and financial arrangements—would strengthen the NIMR's ability to deliver this renewed vision."

    The TF simply didn't discuss seriously what we would recommend if the negotiations with KCL and UCL don't work out. And I take that as an indication of our enthusiasm for a move to a single site in central London. What we did say, and what I read out to KCL and UCL is that we see ways of starting the implementation of our recommendations for NIMR while it remains on the Mill Hill site. To have said more would have misrepresented the TF discussion.

    In reality, if neither KCL or UCL come up with the goods, I presume that it will be up to the Council to decide what to do. The TF, within its timeframe of operation, is simply not in a position to make a recommendation, at least as I interpret the discussion.

    Robin has just phoned me (at 23:30 at night) after I left a third message on his voicemail. He said that he has, indeed been speaking to John Skehel, and it is difficult for me not to conclude that John is driving his behaviour. Yet, as you seen from his latest email, he is accusing me, just as George Radda was accused, of having "a different agenda".

    When I started to tell people that we had achieved a unanimous position last week, they all said that it was it was a miracle. Well, miracles, like bubbles, can burst, it seems. I think that we have spent a huge amount of public money and an enormous amount of our time achieving very little. I cannot say how depressed this makes me.

    In view of the fact that Robin has clearly lost confidence in me, I suggest that someone else (Richard, Paul?) should take the lead. I personally will not sign up to a diluted version of the wording above, which we all agreed a week ago. I hope that a majority will agree with this position, and that we can at least get a majority report out tomorrow. If not, it is up to all of you to decide how you wish to proceed.

    Good luck!


  At 00:08 on 29 February, just minutes after my conversation with Robin, I sent the following to him and the Task Force (NOTE the reference to his hostility towards me):

    Dear Robin and others,

    I have NOT told King's and UCL that the institute will definitely move to one of them. I simply told them (and also John and IC and QMC) what I (and others, it seems) clearly thought the TF had agreed, namely that we are recommending, in principle, that the institute should move, as long as a highly attractive partnership can be negotiated. In fact, I just read out to them the relevant passages from the report that we all agreed (a week ago):

    "The Task Force believes that moving NIMR to central London in partnership with a leading university and hospital—on a suitable site, with appropriate governance and financial arrangements—would strengthen the NIMR's ability to deliver this renewed vision . . . However, it will be essential to develop a partnership agreement for this move that is more attractive than would be possible between a university and NIMR at Mill Hill." I actually read out those passages to Simon and Mike.

    I note that Robin says that he has heard from John Skehel a version of my conversation last week. In fact I read out to John virtually the entire report. John told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was outrageous not to consider Mill Hill on equal terms with KCL and UCL, and I presume that Robin is reflecting this view. In my opinion, that is not what the TF concluded, and I did not misrepresent our views to KCL and UCL by telling them that. However, I don't think that this in any way reduces the pressure on them to come up with their best possible offers. They know that they are in competition with each other, and with whatever absolute criteria the Council wishes to impose. They also know that "it will be essential to develop a partnership agreement for this move that is more attractive than would be possible between a university and NIMR at Mill Hill."

    My recollection is that, as recorded in our report, we did believe that changes towards realising the new vision could and should be achieved on the Mill Hill site. "While partnership discussions proceed, the Task Force recommends immediate action to strengthen NIMR's delivery against the new vision . . . As any move into central London would take 5-10 years to accomplish, the Task Force recommends that the MRC move with all speed to begin bolstering the NIMR's renewed vision at Mill Hill today."

    We didn't spend time discussing the consequences of a complete failure to negotiate a satisfactory deal with either KCL or UCL, and I take that as an indication of how committed we were to preferring a move. Of course, it will necessary for the Council to face up to that if neither College is able to come up with a deal "that is more attractive than would be possible between a university and NIMR at Mill Hill." But, since we didn't even discuss that, I think that it would be totally wrong for us to change our report now to imply that we think that it is simply a three-way competition between Mill Hill, KCL and UCL.

    Clearly Robin has lost confidence in my management of this situation. Like my predecessor, and despite my very best efforts to be completely honest and fair, I now find myself accused of "following a different agenda". If the TF as a whole agrees that I have handled this badly, then I have no choice but to abandon this process and to tell the Council of the MRC that we have failed to reach agreement. But in my opinion we did reach agreement, and I am deeply, deeply disappointed that Robin disagrees at this late stage.

    May I ask you, the other members of the TF, whether you will join me in issuing the summary that we all agreed, at least as as a majority report from the TF? Will those who, in addition to Robin, wish explicitly to dissociate themselves from it please let me know by tomorrow at 17:00, so that we can go ahead with the release of the document? I shall tell the OST what has happened, and shall tell them that, at the time that I handed over a copy of the original version, we did have complete agreement on it.

    Given the hostility towards me, I don't think that it will be constructive for me to continue to try to negotiate with Robin on behalf of the TF, and I leave it up to the rest of you to decide how to proceed.

    Best wishes,


  During the following day, Steve Tomlinson, Kay Davies, Dick Denton and Richard Flavell all wrote accepting the Conclusion document and urging its immediate release. To my surprise, Robin wrote the following message at 09:29 that day, just hours after the phone call in which he now alleges that I threatened his job:

    Dear All,

    On the understanding (as expressed in Colin's message below) that it is clear that the Institute should move only if a highly attractive partnership can be negotiated, but that every effort will be made to obtain the best bids from Kings and UCL, then I will agree to the report.

    Colin gets me wrong. We are doing all of this in a rush and I just want to make sure that we do not have to go through all of this again.


  NOTE that there is no hint of coercion or threats in Robin's message. I ask the S&T Committee to consider whether this message could have been written by someone whose employment had been threatened by the CEO of his employer during the previous evening.

  Nevertheless, I was sufficiently concerned about Robin's criticisms of my management of the Task Force that I wrote the following message to everyone at 18:09 that day, offering (as I had on the 'phone to Robin) to step down from the chair:

    Dear Richard et al,

    It is now past 17:00 and, since I received no dissenting messages, our summary is now being sent out to the institutions that presented proposals, and to the OST and the Chairman of the MRC (replacing the earlier version that they have seen), and it will soon be displayed on the website. You are all at liberty to distribute copies as you wish. I have agreed to meet the union reps next week. I told you that I was willing to go out to Mill Hill to talk to staff—but I am having second thoughts about that (see below).

    Richard, I assure you, and the whole TF, that I told UCL and KCL unequivocally that any co-location partnership offer will have to be more attractive than NIMR staying at Mill Hill. In fact, I simply read out to Mike Spyer and Simon Howell all the relevant sections of the summary, as detailed in my last email. I telephoned both of them this morning and both of them confirmed that I had done this. They said that it was quite clear that their proposals must be truly compelling, and better than Mill Hill could be, to be taken seriously. They said that they are ready to repeat this to anyone on the TF if you have any doubts.

    The very fact that a different account is now circulating widely and that I am accused of having misrepresented the views of the TF, and of having a "different agenda", is an indication of the residual doubts and hostilities that hang over this process.

    I have to report to you that Mike Spyer told me today that John Skehel contacted him last week (after I had spoken to John), and asked to see Mike. They met yesterday and Mike says that John was very critical of UCL for having submitted a joint, split-site proposal with IC. John also said that he intends to continue to "put pressure" (Mike's words) on the TF and others to make sure that the TF report treats the Mill Hill site simply as an equal third option, alongside KCL and UCL. Mike wishes this to be treated in confidence for the moment, but is preparing notes of this meeting and will, I think, share the facts with members of the TF.

    Personally, I consider this an interference with the independence of the TF, which can only reduce our chances of producing an agreed and convincing report for the Council on 29 July. If anyone on the TF has influence with John, I hope that you will do your best to persuade him that this is a destructive and unfair strategy. I have tried to talk to John rationally, but just get shouted at and called an idiot, so I think that it would be unproductive for me to contact him again.

    Despite all my efforts to be completely open, honest and fair in how I have handled this task (a task that I inherited—not of my own making), I now find myself accused of dishonesty and of hidden agendas. I am grateful to those of you who have written to offer your support but I think that, during the coming four weeks in which our full report must be prepared and negotiations with KCL and UCL must be vigorously pursued, it would be better if someone who is not tainted with the Black Spot of Mill Hill were to lead the activities of the TF. To put it briefly, I have had enough of trying to deal with the forces that are conspiring against the MRC and against the head of the MRC—whoever that person is.

    We need a volunteer to take over the task of talking to KCL and UCL and of chairing the sub-committee that is going to work on early drafts of our report—someone who has a thick enough skin to deal with the slings and arrows. My standing with NIMR staff is increasingly compromised and I predict that this will increase over the coming weeks.

    Will anyone volunteer to take over?

    Best wishes,


  Everyone who replied encouraged me to continue in the chair and the spirit in the Task Force seemed, for a while, to improve. Indeed, on Wednesday 30 June, I telephoned Robin to ask his approval of the wording of the press release. The conversation was entirely affable. Robin suggested with one small change in wording, and he even offered the following quotation for the release:

    Dr Robin Lovell-Badge from NIMR, who is a member of the Task Force, said: "This has been a difficult period for staff at the institute and I am sure that they will appreciate these positive recommendations, which would to secure the institute's future."

  Again, I ask the S&T Committee whether such behaviour, and such a supportive quotation, could have been made over the 'phone by someone who had been intimidated and threatened with the sack only two days earlier.

  POINT 2: (John Skehel's recollections of Robin reporting this and previous threats to him as Director and Robin's line-manager.)

  I find it astounding that Sir John should now suddenly remember that a Divisional Head at NIMR told him previously of a threat of dismissal from the CEO of MRC. If this had happened it would obviously have been Sir John's duty, as Director of an MRC institute, to report it immediately to the Chairman of Council, to the AUT and to the Head of Human Resources at MRC. Not to have done these things would have been a serious failure of Directorial responsibility.

  In reality, despite Sir John having poured out abuse and accusations against me on many occasions during the work of the Task Force, he never mentioned any complaint from Robin about coercion or threats. Surely he would (and should) have done so if he had truly received such complaints.

  The very first time that Sir John told me about this was on 2 December, the day after the S&T Committee hearings. Sir John had telephoned my office in the afternoon of 1 December and had said that he would be available if Sir Anthony Cleaver or I wished to talk to him. I had hoped that this indicated that he wanted to discuss ways of moving forward, so I immediately contacted his office and ask to see him as soon as possible. We met in a pub in Covent Garden between 18:00 and 19:00 on the 2nd.

  Far from being in a mood of compromise, Sir John simply shouted his way through all the familiar accusations of incompetence, manipulation and stupidity. I expressed my surprise and regret at the events of the previous day and assured him that there was no truth whatever in Robin's allegations. I said that, if Robin had really been threatened he would obviously have reported this immediately to the other members of the Task Force, to MRC Head Office, to the Chairman of Council and to the union. Sir John did not respond to this—he certainly didn't deny the logic of this. I then said, as an afterthought, that Robin would surely have told him, Sir John, about the offence. After a few seconds of thought, Sir John suddenly said that he did recall Robin having said something to him. He did not say when. I'm afraid that I had the distinct impression that this was just invented on the spot.

  I must add that, in the same conversation, Sir John said explicitly "I feel no sense of responsibility to the MRC". When I challenged what he had said, he repeated it. I wrote a letter to him to express my serious concern at what he had said—and he has replied to deny that he had ever said it! I can supply this correspondence if the Committee wishes to see it.

  POINT 3: (A Task Force email of 26 July 2004 (email) 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.")

  The background to Robin's email of 26 July is shown in the annotated list of correspondence that I have already supplied to the S&T Committee. Robin was replying to a message (below) that I sent to him on 23 July. On Monday 19 July, the Task Force had held its final, long conference call, which was well attended, including by Robin and Steve Gamblin. At that meeting, the text of the entire final report, drafted by the sub-committee of which Robin was a member, was discussed at length. In particular, the wording of the Executive Summary was minutely considered, with every sentence being read, considered, sometimes modified, and final approved by all present. We also approved the final wording of Para 4.2, which recorded clearly the difference of opinion within the Task Force on the question of whether the Mill Hill site should be included as an "active option" in the options appraisal. There remained some minor details to be added by the Secretariat to the report and we all agreed to a deadline of "start of play" on Wednesday 21 July for any other minor corrections. On Tuesday 20 July, Steve Gamblin sent the following email, with some minor changes:

    Dear David,

    Thanks for your most recent update. I am still getting thru the appendices and main body of the text but I have two additional comments now.

    1.  Given that we have no minutes for our meetings we should include in Appendix 1 a brief statement of attendance of TF members at the formal TF meetings and conference calls.

    2.  We should include in our bullet point 11 that the TF's best guess of construction costs will be $105 million and $125 million reflecting the additional $20 million for animal facilities. Given the all the experience of capital projects running over budget I dont think we ought to leave this additional sum to just the long text of the document.

    ok, cheers for now


  At 12:05 on Wednesday 21 July, after the deadline, when the staff were already preparing the final report for distribution to the union representatives and the MRC Council, Steve Gablin sent a huge list of changes, several of which would have changed completely the thrust of major conclusions in the Executive Summary. In fact this message did not arrive until 17:46 because of a server failure at NIMR.

  David Smith spoke to me to express his alarm. We knew that, at that stage, several of the members of the Task Force had left on vacation and that it would be impossible to reconvene a quorate conference call. The Council was due to meet to consider the report in just eight days time. We were placed in the unreasonable position of a demand to accept controversial changes, contradicting the agreement reached at the conference call only two days earlier, hence disenfranchising the rest of the Task Force. I immediately (about 18:00) telephoned Robin Lovell-Badge to discover his views and to try to talk through the situation, but he was not in his office or lab. I left a message on his voicemail asking him to contact me urgently, since the papers had to be prepared to go out to Council (NOTE: I am sure that I did not say that they had already been sent—what would have been the point of asking to speak about the proposed changes if that had been the case?).

  Kay Davies and Dick Denton (the only other members of the Task Force in contact) immediately wrote to object to the substantive changes. I tried to reach other members, but could contact none of them.

  I asked David Smith to work carefully through Steve's list and to incorporate all changes that did not contradict agreements reached in the conference call. He did this on Thursday 22 July, and I made two more attempts to reach Robin Lovell-Badge that day. Again, he was not in his office or lab, but I left further messages on his voicemail, asking him to call me. He did not. Instead, at 14:15 that day, he sent the following email to the Task Force:

    Dear All

    As I mentioned on Monday to those who were still on the conference call towards its end, I have been attending a meeting which kept me very busy and away from phones and email. I did have a conversation with Steve (G) late Tuesday afternoon, where we discussed several issues about the report, in particular documents or information that we have only just received. It was clear that these necessitated some factual changes to the report, mostly with respect to financial aspects. It would seem to me a mistake not to incorporate these corrections into the report, even at this late stage.

    We also discussed point 4 of the executive summary. While I understand Colin's wish to present as much unanimity as possible, I would be very unhappy if my views were misrepresented, which just the use of the verb "would" does not solve. I had tried to deal with the problems of consistency and disparate views in the version Steve and I sent on Friday, by separating partnership, which I think we are all happy with, and co-location, about which I am still not convinced is a good idea (for the MRC as well as the Institute). There was considerable support amongst the TF for option 1 (many declaring one and two or two and one, when asked during the fifth meeting), and of course the respondents of the consultation very strongly went for option 1. I was sure that some form of words could be devised to reflect these divergent opinions.

    However, now I have just seen all the correspondence from Colin sent on Tuesday and yesterday, I think it will be impossible to reach a consensus view. I certainly do not appreciate Colin sending letters purporting to represent all the Task Force without specifically obtaining permission first. He has certainly not written these with either tone or content that I am happy with. Should I now write to all the recipients to express my views?

    Steve and I are members of the Task Force and Colin, as Chairman, should be taking account of our views just as much as anyone else. Colin may think we are Luddites trying to defend the status quo, but this is far from the truth. We have openly and enthusiastically engaged in the process and have encouraged our colleagues to do the same. Indeed, we have played a significant part in formulating the strategic vision of the renewed institute. Nor are we opposed to a move to central London. We just think that Mill Hill should be considered as an option for comparison with the others. Many people I talk to still find it a complete mystery why there is even a suggestion that it should move. I can use the arguments in the report, but they fail to convince—indeed they are often turned round and used as arguments why NIMR should stay at Mill Hill. It is certainly very difficult for them to understand why it should not at least be an option. Should I really sign up to something that does not reflect either my opinion or that of the vast majority of people I talk to?

    Colin is now worried about rumours that it was always his intention to break up or close NIMR. (In fact these rumours have been around for some considerable time.) We would not start these as it is counterproductive—such rumours would not encourage people to stay at the Institute and they would not encourage KCL or UCL to come up with good bids. As I mentioned at the end of the conference call, at least one source of these rumours seems to be from a person associated with MRC Head Office. This is not our fault and we can do nothing about it—it should be up to Colin to put a stop to them. But, by aggressively challenging any suggestion we make, Colin is revealing a bias that precisely lends support to these rumours. Steve and I have not left it to the last minute to let our views be known. They have just been ignored by Colin. If they had been taken into account we would not still be arguing for changes to be made in the report. If it is not unanimous, or not all of us can sign up to it, then so be it. But with a little effort there could at least have been consensus.


  On Friday 23 July, at 08:23, I sent the following email to Steve Gamblin, suggesting that he should write a letter to the Council to present the views that simply could not be incorporated in the final report because of the impossibility of consulting all the rest of the Task Force. I thought that this was the only fair compromise:

    Dear Steve,

    I hope that you have seen the messages that David and I sent last night. David did incorporate the majority of your changes—all that did not involve altering language that had been seen and thoroughly discussed at the last conference call (and before). Surely you see that, given Kay's and Dick's immediate rejection of substantive changes, and the impossibility of contacting all the other members to get their views (I did try to reach some), we could not accept your material changes because to have done so would essentially have disenfrachised the rest of the TF.

    Your message was sent after a deadline that we all agreed, and we simply could not wait any longer before distributing the report.

    It would be a shame to lose the degree of consensus that we did achieve, but, if you feel that you must express contrary views, you could write a letter to the Council, in advance of the meeting on 29 July. However, I (and, I'm sure, other members of the TF) hope that you will accept the report, even though you might not now be satisfied with every word.

    I know—not least from talking to Guy Dodson on the phone yesterday—the stresses and pressures that have fallen on you and Robin, and I appreciate how difficult it must have been to try to bring your own views to the table and to participate dispassionately in the discussion, while also acting as representatives of the opinions of staff at Mill Hill.

    Best wishes,


  And at 10:21 on 23 July, I sent the following to Robin:

    Dear Robin,

    As you know, I have tried several times to contact you by telephone since Steve's long list of suggested changes arrived, and I have left three voicemail messages asking you to call me, but you did not. Perhaps some of the residual differences of interpretation could have been resolved if we could have spoken.

    I have done my best to chair the TF fairly and to handle what was bound to be a very difficult process—given the complex nature of the issue and the history that hangs over it. Many people warned me in advance that they saw no chance of the TF achieving unanimity of opinion; but we did—for a time at least—and on some of the most important questions. It would be such a tragedy, at this last moment, to lose the level of consensus that we did reach, and I ask you not to dissociate yourself at this stage from views that were extensively discussed and approved at our fifth meeting, and from wording for the final report that was approved by you and Steve, duriing the conference calls, where the other members of the TF could express their views and their agreement.

    It cannot be acceptable to the TF as a whole for Steve and you to force several material changes on the report, reversing previously agreed conclusions, by means of a message sent after the deadline for minor factual corrections, and leaving no opportunity for most of the other members of the TF to respond. (Of course, those who have responded have objected).

    Let me try to deal with the points in your message.

    First, you will see from the Report, that all the straightforward factual changes suggested by Steve have been made.

    On point 4 of the Exec Summary, the word "will" was read and approved by everyone at the last conference call. "Could" would certainly have contradicted the views agreed and recorded in the summary of our fifth meeting. "Would"—the final version—echoes exactly the wording of the published summary of that meeting:

      "The Task Force believes that moving NIMR to central London in partnership with a leading university and hospital—on a suitable site, with appropriate governance and financial arrangements—would strengthen the NIMR's ability to deliver this renewed vision."

    That summary was not only dissected minutely during the fifth meeting, but also subjected to protracted subsequent discussion in correspondence and conference calls, largely led by you and Steve. You will remember that the original wording for this had "will strengthen" but we agreed, in correspondence after the meeting, to change it to "would strengthen" (not to "might"). You cannot possibly say that you did not have sufficient time to consider this wording, and you both willingly signed up to it. Can you not see that it is unreasonable, and unacceptable to the other members of the TF, now to say that the you accept partnership but not co-location?

    You write: "I certainly do not appreciate Colin sending letters purporting to represent all the Task Force without specifically obtaining permission first." As far as I can recall, the only letter in which I have specifically stated that I was trying to represent the views of the TF as a whole was my reply to Guy Dodson's letter, which he had copied to Lord Sainsbury. I have sent copies of this correspondence to the TF. The actual wording in my reply was as follows:

      "I haven't been able to consult all the other members of the Task Force but I'll try to represent their collective views. I've already forwarded your letter to them; I'll send them copies of this reply and I'll let you know if there are objections to what I've written."

    I replied to Guy within three days of receiving his letter, not only because I was sure that he and others at NIMR would appreciate a rapid response, but also because I was asked by the OST for a copy of my reply in time for Lord Sainsbury to see it before his meeting with Andrew Dismore.

    I worded my reply to Guy so that it was clear that the TF had not been consulted in advance, and I said that I would tell Guy if anyone objected to what I had written. No-one did—until this remark of yours, Robin. (What exactly did I say in that letter, by the way, that you now object to?).

    If you know of anything else that I have written that specifically purports to represent the views of the entire TF, and with which you disagree, please give us the details. Innuendo without evidence is unacceptable, Robin.

    You put me in a very difficult position. I am being bombarded with things that I must respond to—many of them resulting from the propaganda campaign that has been mounted by NIMR (despite the agreement not to use the media or to lobby before the TF reports to Council). If I didn't reply to such things, I would be accused of secrecy and having things to hide, and the false accusations in them would go unchallenged. But when I do reply I am accused by you of misrepresenting your opinion! Catch 22, Robin.

    You will remember that, in a previous moment of despondency about the flak that was being directed against me personally, I suggested that some other member of the TF ought to take over the task of communicating on behalf of the TF—but that suggestion was rejected by the TF and I was told that it's my job!

    You say that I should take account of your views and Steve's in communicating TF opinion. Well, which views are you referring to? The ones that you signed up to in the fifth meeting summary, or the views that have emerged in the past two days? It would have been rather difficult for me, in anything that I wrote or said before yesterday, to have represented your current opinion rather than the one expressed in the fifth meeting summary.

    What do you want me now to say? That I can give an opinion on behalf of all but two members of the TF? That I can tell people what all the TF agreed three weeks ago, and also what two of them are now saying? Can you not see the quandary that you put me in? I can't represent the views of the TF unless they are consistent over time.

    I know that you and Steve have engaged in the TF process and that you have been genuinely enthusiastic about its conclusions—in the past. But what is frustrating is this last-second change of heart and the accusation that your views have not been properly considered or recorded. You say "We just think that Mill Hill should be considered as an option for comparison with the others." Well, I must remind you that that is recorded as the unanimous view of the TF in the summary of our fifth meeting:

      "It will be essential to develop a partnership agreement for this move that is more attractive than would be possible between a university and NIMR at Mill Hill."

    And your opinion that Mill Hill should be considered an explicit option is, of course, also recorded in the carefully crafted paragraph 4.2 of the report.

    Now I must object to your statement: "Steve and I have not left it to the last minute to let our views be known. They have just been ignored by Colin." That is really unfair, and I hope that other members of the TF will record their objection to it. First, the most recent views, in Steve's long message, were most certainly last-minute—beyond the agreed deadline, in fact. Your previous views have been heard and considered by the entire TF at every meeting and every conference call. (I think that I am right in saying that you and Steve have been present at every meeting, and that at least one of you has been present at every conference call.) You have not been reticent in objecting to the precise wording of drafts of our summary reports, you have successfully pressed for changes in previously agreed wording, and you have always agreed to every report that has been released. Your suggestion that I alone have ignored your views is a falsehood, and I ask you to take it back. I can only see it as part of a growing campaign to personalise this discussion by projecting on to me alone responsibility for the collective views of the TF, or views clearly recorded as being those of a majority. If you are accusing me of having interfered with the process in other ways, or of having done other things to "ignore" your and Steve's views, you must spell them out those accusations and allow me and other members of the TF to comment on them.

    I see the ludicrous rumours (about my having been appointed by the MRC specifically to close down NIMR) as another facet of the efforts to personalise criticism of the TF. I am thinking about possible ways in which I can make a public statement to counter this stupidity.

    If I do visit Mill Hill to talk to staff about the TF report, I now fully expect to suffer the same kind of humiliating walk-out that George Radda and Tony Cleaver were subjected to. But I hope that the record of all our discussions and correspondence, when David has time to put it up on the web, will enable the world to judge whether I have been fair or biased.

    Now, Robin, I urge you to look at the final version of the report, to see that the factual changes suggested by Steve have been incorporated, and to compare carefully the sections for which he suggested substantive changes with the wording of our unanimously agreed and published fifth meeting summary. I hope that, on reflection, and in the light of the views from Kay and Dick, you will not dissociate yourself from the report.

    Best wishes,


  Also on 23 July, Richard Flavell contacted me and told me that he would be in England the following week. I said that I hoped that it would be possible for him to attend the meeting of Council, specifically to present to Council the opinions and concerns of Robin and Steve, and other NIMR staff. He agreed to try to contact Steve and Robin so as to inform himself fully of their views and wrote the following to the Task Force:

    Dear Colleagues

    Colin and I had a chance to talk about my suggestion to be present at the Council meeting. As you can see from his email, he was enthusiastic about that idea. We further discussed the option this provides for me to represent the views of particularly Steve and Robin in which they feel that the final version of the report did not completely represent their points of view. Specifically I would be delighted to represent these views and Colin and I have both agreed that. To facilitate this, I will call Steve and Robin on Monday or Tuesday in order to get these positions clear. I will then represent these to Council on Thursday. Please let me know whether you all agree with Colin's and my position on this issue. Assuming there are no objections I will continue on that basis. With best wishes to you all.

  Then, at 17:47 on Monday 26 July, I received the highly critical email from Robin, now referred to as evidence of previous coercion:

    Dear Colin

    This is in response to your message of Friday 23 July, included below. I am not addressing all your points, this reply is already long enough, but I can do so.

    I did not return your calls for several reasons. Your first message on my mobile phone was at about 5.00 pm on Wednesday 21 July (although I was at a meeting and did not find your message until later that evening). In this message you were complaining about the long list of suggested changes that Steve (G) had sent in earlier that day, and critically, you said that the Report had already been sent to Council. There was, therefore, no point in calling you, to attempt to reach a compromise, as it would have been too late to alter the wording.

    I did not feel a great desire simply to have what would have been a fruitless discussion, especially as 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.

    The message on my mobile was reinforced by one on my phone at work, which I only received Thursday lunchtime after the meeting had ended and I had returned to NIMR. Again, you stated in this message that the report had been distributed. It was then that I sent my e-mail (also included below). It had been my opinion that we could have reached a compromise over the wording of point 4 of the executive summary, but it was too late. Again, for what reason should I have returned your call?

    However, it then transpired that the Report was not, in fact, distributed until 5.00 pm on Thursday. This was stated in your third `phone message left on my mobile at about 7.00 pm that day. It transpires that you had made changes to it that I would argue are contentious or misleading. The Report was therefore distributed, purporting to be a Task Force agreed document, when you knew full well that it was not, as you would have received my message and knew of the views of Steve (G) and myself.

    Moreover, how do you justify the difference between your statements in your two earlier `phone messages and reality with respect to the timing of distribution of the Report?

    I can only interpret this as a deliberate ploy to prevent any attempt at resolving differences—one that seems to have been successful. But why would you do this? I assume this is another deliberate ploy—an excuse to allow you to say to Council that Steve and I were obstreperous and difficult, complaining to the end, and being capricious just to try and wreck the process. Of course, this is the opposite of what is true—we were trying to reach a compromise that would allow everyone to sign up.

    This also relates to your second and third paragraphs. Any problems have been because you have not adequately taken account of our opinions (and I am referring to you, especially in your capacity as the Chairman, not other Task Force members.) You say that you believe the Task Force has achieved unanimity of opinion. If it has, this has only been on ambiguously worded reports. We have been able to agree on a form of words, often after a lot of difficulty, but this is not the same as all thinking the same. A clear example of this would be the report of the third Task Force meeting, where it is stated that the renewed Institute would be located either at Mill Hill or in central London. This conclusion was also restated in the report of the fourth meeting. You signed up to these in clear contrast to the very explicit statements made recently that you oppose any possibility of NIMR remaining at Mill Hill. I think you signed up to these reports, not because you shared my opinion that it should remain an option, but because you thought the outcome of further deliberations would exclude it.

    Should I feel suspicious that this was indeed the motive behind what I feel is indeed a notable failure of your chairmanship? This was to avoid a proper and full discussion of the Mill Hill bid at the fifth meeting, which you admitted was done deliberately because you knew that we would be unable to reach a unanimous view on this topic, already knowing yourself to be opposed and Steve (G) and I in favour of it being a clear option. Perhaps I have not been to as many committee meetings as you, but I have never known any chairman to deliberately avoid an issue when they know it to be contentious—solving problems is generally the whole point of having such meetings.

    You have also far too often assumed agreement on a topic or wording when it has merely been discussed or even just presented, either in our meetings or conference calls. Again, a good chairman would make sure that everyone was happy that an agreed conclusion had been reached. This was not done at our last conference call in respect to bullet point 4 of the Executive Summary. Moreover, when it comes to precise wording in a document, this is very difficult to finalise on the day, even if detailed minutes have been taken—which has not been the case in all the Task Force proceedings (why not??). All the Task Force reports have had to be modified, sometimes considerably, after a few days reflection, and not just by Steve (G) and myself.

    One of the reasons for apparent changes of mind, is when context, in which someone may have originally agreed a specific form of words, has changed. I am willing to compromise over wording when I have some confidence that my real views will be reflected in other ways. I was never happy with the wording in Point 4 of the Executive Summary. Perhaps there was a stage when I was willing to compromise, but now I cannot.

    The reason is simply that in the light of all the data, much of which we only received in the last few days, I cannot sign up to this part of the Report. I am a scientist and make conclusions based on evidence. I should be allowed to change my mind as often as I see fit, especially if circumstances and evidence have changed. Others on the Task Force have done so. Specifically, over point 4, I do not believe that co-location under the terms presented by either KCL or UCL offers any advantages over an independent site, indeed I think both would be deleterious to the Institute's renewed mission and waste a huge amount of money in the process. Perhaps more appropriate bids can be negotiated, but perhaps not. There is no evidence that this will happen. It is for this reason that I wanted to separate statements about partnership, which I support, and co-location, which I now very much doubt can give adequate advantages over an independent site, such as at Mill Hill. Indeed, especially at Mill Hill, given the cost advantages.

    And as to point 4, remember that David Smith, and not just us, had appreciated the inconsistency between this point and other parts of the Report. He suggested a form of words to correct this, but they were also rejected by you.

    My lack of trust in your ability to represent my views was reinforced by the letters you sent to Guy Dodson and to Professor Chris Richards. You sent the letter to Guy without having checked first with other members of the Task Force, but claiming to represent all our views. If this was not bad enough, you forward it to Lord Sainsbury and others. You were sending draft wording from the Report, which is prejudicial if done in advance of final agreement, or without prior approval from all of the authors of the Report. This is not the only occasion when you have done this. You sent a draft of the report of the fifth meeting to Lord Sainsbury, Professor O'Nions and to Sir Antony Cleaver without seeking prior approval. This report eventually included a number of substantive changes. And, of course, you have distributed the Final report without full agreement.

    In your letter to Professor Richards, the wording does not allow the reader to distinguish who held which views. I quote from your letter: "You are criticising the judgement of a very eminent group of people (myself excluded), half nominated by NIMR." And then: "Lest you think that the failure to recommend the Mill Hill site as a long-term location for the renewed institute is my misinterpretation of the Task Force's opinion, or is a view held by a tiny minority, I use this opportunity to tell you that a majority of the Task Force are of this opinion." This is not a fair representation of who held which views. Moreover, it is only a majority of one, which does not come across in the way it is written.

    Furthermore, what evidence allows you to say the following in this letter: "not only the few years for which it might be possible to maintain the Mill Hill building with a modest capital investment." You know this to be untrue.

    With respect to your use of "majority", not only in this letter, but in the changes in the Report that you made well beyond any deadline for changes, remember it it is a majority of only one. And you use even this dangerously. At the fifth meeting of the Task Force, four out of the seven members present left that meeting thinking that Mill Hill was a clear option. Even if we take account of the written submissions from the two members not present on the day, one perhaps preferred the split option (which was rejected), the other stated a clear preference for the Institute to stay at Mill Hill. It was only afterwards that you ruled that we had not sufficiently discussed the Mill Hill bid to make any recommendations that it should be an option. Why did the majority present on the day think we had?

    And before you say that the majority view several days after the meeting was different, this just highlights why any of us should be allowed to change our views on what we can sign up to, even at the last minute. You can't have rules for some members of the Task Force, but not others.

    You say that you are being bombarded with things that you must respond to, and that this puts you into a difficult situation. But it is one you have brought on yourself. How do you imagine staff at NIMR are going to react to some of the things you have allowed to happen or that you have written? I think they have in fact been remarkably restrained under the circumstances. And remember, Steve and I are bombarded with questions every day at the Institute and outside—I have little sympathy for your situation. Given the accepted problems about process associated with FIS, many at NIMR have been nervous about the Task Force. The first major problem was the backtracking in between the third and fourth meeting, where the idea of a fragmented or dispersed Institute was brought back on the table. Then, honestly, how do you think they are going to react to the decision to exclude Mill Hill as a clear option on the grounds that this was not discussed properly? Steve (G) and I cautioned you about both of these major issues, but you chose to ignore our advice.

    Despite the obvious importance of getting the likely costs of major capital investments, and their justifications, as accurate as possible, Steve and I have been made to feel that we have been swimming against treacle whenever we try to make corrections or add details that have been overlooked. Why? Whether it was over the Arup report or over other details, our attempts have been treated with great suspicion. For example, during our last conference call, you try to put all sorts of reasons why the size of the animal facilities in the KCL and UCL bids is less than half that currently at NIMR. It turned out, as we suspected, to have been a mistake in what they were asked to provide. A £20 million detail that does not seem to concern you! Even not including this, the financial "details" are still problematical. For example, the Arup costs for new builds (their options 4-6, and perhaps 3 as well) are for fitting out as if the buildings are offices; they do not include all the extras required for lab or animal space (everything from fume hoods to filtered air, to computer networking and autoclaves, etc). These are the extra 20% and 40% that we have mentioned many times (estimates from Keith Tucker). Do the UCL and KCL bids really include all the latter? If so, why can they do all they propose to do for substantially less than Arup?

    You may be happy to sign a report with so many uncertainties, but I am not. It is certainly not what I thought was meant by "the detailed business case" as set out in the Task Force's original remit.

    I hope that Council will be told how the latter phases of the process have been so rushed that important details were still being changed up to the day it was sent out to them. These details and additional documentation in the appendix (including the independent report on the consultation exercise) would not have been seen by many members of the Task Force, who were therefore given no opportunity to comment or to decide whether the changes were so substantive to warrant different conclusions.


  I immediately telephoned Robin and asked to talk through all these allegations. The conversation was sad rather than heated. Robin admitted that he was frustrated and angry because the major changes suggested by Steve Gamblin had not been incorporated in the final report. When I reminded him that he and Steve had agreed to the wording, together with the other Task Force members, at the conference call just two days beforehand, he said that he was free to change his mind. He did, however, seem to accept my argument that only two other members of the Task Force were in contact, and both of them had objected. And he responded positively to my repeated suggestion that he and Steve should write a letter to the Council, to be considered alongside the Task Force report. He was also very pleased when I told him that I had invited Richard Flavell to attend the Counil meeting, to represent his and Steve's views. I did question the reference in his message to "unpleasant" phone calls and "threats" but he referred only to his call to me on 28 June (described above). As the conversation proceeded, Robin was more contrite and he conceded that many of the points in his message were exaggerated. At the end of the conversation, I asked him to consider whether he really wished to have such an aggressive message displayed on the website, in view of his retraction during our conversation of most of what he had written. Robin said that he would consider whether to withdraw the email, send a modified version of it, or simply to declare it confidential. I wrote to him at 17:52 on 26 July, directly after our phone conversation:

    Dear Robin,

    It was good to talk to you at length (sorry about the length) just now about your message. I hope that you might think about modifying it in the light of our discussion, or maybe just declaring it confidential. I know that I haven't been a perfect chairman, but I've done my best to try to balance the views of everyone on the TF. And I don't want to come out of this looking like Machiavelli to the whole world.

    I'm glad that you are pleased that Richard will be attending the Council meeting.

    Best wishes,


  However, with the growing hostility at NIMR that followed the release of the Council's statement after its meeting, Robin subsequently insisted that he wished the email to remain, and to be considered non-confidential and therefore displayed on the MRC website. After taking legal advice, David Smith wrote to Robin and to me to say that he had decided not to display Robin's email on the grounds that it might be actionable. David did this entirely on his own initiative.

  POINT 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.")

  At the open meeting at NIMR on 8 October, Robin Lovell-Badge did say that he had had a tense phone conversation with me. I do not recall him using the word "threat", but Steve Tomlinson should give his views on this. I did indeed respond by saying that we had had one (but only one) "heated" conversation (on 28 June), but this was most certainly not an admission of threats. The very difficult circumstances surrounding that aggressive phone call from Robin to me are described above.

  I wish to affirm again to the S&T Committee that I absolutely deny having threatened Robin Lovell-Badge in any way, and I am appalled at this attempt to smear my reputation, presumably aimed at invalidating the Task Force process, removing me from the MRC and throwing the MRC into crisis.

  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).

  This describes a "straw poll" carried out part-way through the fifth meeting, to gauge opinion about the full range of options under consideration at the start of that meeting. The S&T Committee will note that, apart from Dick Denton, who did not express an opinion at that stage, all those present had a central London location among their preferences.

  In fact, after the presentations from central London Colleges and from Mill Hill, there was further extensive discussion, which was terminated by the crucial comment from Sir Paul Nurse: "It's obvious that Mill Hill is not an option in the long run" (On 1 December, when this remark was quoted by Dr Harris, Sir John Skehel said; "He denies that he said it, actually", but the S&T Committee heard from Sir Paul himself: "I definitely said that"). No one contradicted Paul and his remark essentially ended the discussion. We immediately got down to the task of writing the Conclusions document, which was agreed by everyone on the spot. I sat next to Robin at dinner, and he, with others, came to my flat for drinks afterwards. The mood was very upbeat and he said that, since he lived in Notting Hill, it would be easy for him to work in central London. He wrote to me the next morning:

    Dear Colin

    Many thanks. I do feel good about things, although I am exhausted (the effects of the wine and whisky contributing to this—but thank you nevertheless).

  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).

  Kay Davies herself should respond to this, but my recollection (and I was present when the consultants interviewed Kay before the fifth meeting of the Task Force, so that her views could be presented in her absence) was that she put forward a possible model for development of some forms of translational research on the Mill Hill site, without the benefit of direct contact with a hospital, if the Task Force were to prefer that option. Her ideas were fully reported to the Task Force at the fifth meeting, but, in the event, there was a preference for a move into co-location with a hospital/HEI. After she had seen the "Conclusions of the fifth meeting", and had participated in a further conference call, Kay wrote on Friday 25 June:

    Dear Colin,

    The final statement looks very good to me.

    Best wishes,

    Kay Davies

  The Committee can presumably ask Kay whether she was coerced into that opinion.

  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).

  I object in the strongest terms to the phrase "subsequent persuasion". No-one was persuaded to do anything against their will. Indeed, the only continuing accusation of "coercion" comes from Robin, who most certainly did not change his mind!

  2.  I was not at the MRC during these events but I have heard a very different account from Sir Anthony Cleaver and members of the Forward Investment Strategy sub-committee. I repeat here the statement already sent by the MRC in response to a similar question:

    FIS developed their draft principles for future funding of medical research ("the FIS principles"—see previous submission) at their first meeting in November 2002. Each of the Directors of the four FIS sites was invited to comment on these and to discuss with the FIS committee the implications for future research strategies and positioning in their units/institutes. In the case of NIMR, the FIS committee had a meeting with the local staff side as well as with the director before developing the detailed propositions which were published for consultation in April 2003.

    Each of the four directors was sent an advance copy of the FIS report just prior to publication. The report included a set of propositions for each of the four sites. These were to be the subject of broad consultation including with staff. In the case of NIMR, it was agreed with the director that the Council Chair, the previous CEO and other senior MRC officials would visit NIMR on the following day to explain the overall vision, to set out the specific FIS propositions and to elicit the initial views of senior scientific staff. In the event, the director chose to circulate the report to all staff at NIMR in advance of the meeting. Heads of Divisions walked out of this meeting without any engagement. Subsequent engagement with staff, including some meetings between NIMR scientists and FIS members, demonstrated that resistance to the FIS propositions was implacable and led to the decision to take a different approach to engaging NIMR staff in discussions in the Task Force.

  3.  It is quite incorrect to say that "the Director was excluded from membership" of the Task Force because "it was not the intention of the MRC that NIMR management views should be represented". Sir John is well aware of the truth. When NIMR as a whole was invited to nominate two members of staff to serve on the Task Force, Sir John quickly contacted me to tell me that he and Robin Lovell-Badge would serve. I questioned whether it was appropriate for him, as retiring Director, to be a member of the Task Force, which had been set up to conduct a strategic review in the context of the search for a new Director. I said that I would consult on this question, and I did so, among several members of Council. The view was unanimous—that it would be entirely inappropriate for Sir John to be involved in a process relevant to the appointment of his successor. I then contacted him again to convey this view and was subjected to the usual shouted abuse before he finally said that Steve Gamblin would replace him. But he then proceeded to demand that he should be allowed to be present at discussions of the Task Force that were not relevant to the appointment of his successor, and I acquiesced. In fact, he did attend most meetings of the Task Force, giving more than adequate representation of "NIMR management views".

  In addition to the presence at every meeting of the Task Force of Steve Gamblin and Robin Lovell-Badge, and at parts of each meeting of Sir John, the Task Force also invited presentations from several Heads of Division. A number of open discussion meetings and two days of workshops were held at Mill Hill.

  The question of the specification of animal house space has been dealt with in email correspondence, supplied to the S&T Committee. KCL and UCL were indeed given a specification of 4,000 square metres since that was the figure supplied by the building consultants, Ove Arup, as the space occupied by animal housing at Mill Hill. However, there is additional space in the Mill Hill animal facility that is used for procedures (experiments). There was no intention to reduce the amount of animal space in the event of a move. It is assumed (and understood by KCL and UCL) that procedure space will be needed in addition to animal housing.

  On the occasions that specific presentations and proposals from NIMR were made to the TF, they were made by the NIMR Director and relevant HoD's and not by the NIMR TF members.

  NOTE the statement that "presentations were made to the TF by the NIMR Director", despite the statement above that "the Director was excluded".

  4.  The circumstances of the past-last-minute demand for substantive changes in the Task Force report, the refusal of the available Task Force members to accept these changes and the impossibility of contacting the others to arrive at a representative position, have all been described above. It is a misrepresentation to say that the suggestions "were rejected by the MRC secretariat or CEO". We did our very best to incorporate all the non-substantive changes, and the decision not to include the substantive changes was not "arbitrary". It was the only decision possible in the circumstances. The S&T Committee will note that this statement says nothing about my invitation to Steve and Robin to write a letter about their position to the Council, nor about my invitation to Richard Flavell to attend the Council meeting to represent their views.

  5.  While it is gratifying to read this endorsement of translational research, the S&T Committee will remember John Savill's comment in 1 December hearing about the surprisingly poor performance of NIMR at Mill Hill in attracting young clinician scientists.

December 2004

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