Supplementary memorandum from Professor
Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council
RESPONSES TO "NIMR ANSWER" (APPENDIX
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
NIMR ANSWERS TO
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
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
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
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
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:
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 jobonly 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.
Optimise NIMR in Mill Hill.
David Smith, Secretary to the Task Force, circulated
a draft summary on Wednesday 11 February, which included the following
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
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
"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."
"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 beand that this was what was meant by the phrase
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:
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 itselfand so much
I begin to wonder whether we, the Task force,
can complete our job.
Steve Tomlinson replied at 20:02 on Friday 13
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 Collegejust 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,
I wrote again to Steve Tomlinson at 16:23 on
Sunday 15 February:
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 recommendationsconstraints
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 reportsfrom
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.
At 17:02 that Sunday, I sent the following confidential
message to Robin and the entire Task Force:
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
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 excitinga 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
Kay Davies immediately replied:
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.
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 reasonsfinancial, 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
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
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 biologyhis
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 . . .").
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
At 21:39, Kay Davies responded:
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.
And at 22:44, only a couple of hours after the
phone conversation, Robin replied to Kay (NOTEnot a mention
of threats or coercion):
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 reportin
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:
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 viewthough 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 communityand couldn't be achieved in any other
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 evolutionbut
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.
At 08:00, Steve Tomlinson wrote:
At 08:01, Kay Davies:
And, to my surprise, at 11:02, Robin wrote:
I agree with both of you.
At 14:18 on Tuesday 17 February, David Smith
circulated a further revised version of the summary:
I am writing in the hope that we might now achieve
consensus for the final text of the conclusions of the last Task
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
#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.
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
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:
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
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
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
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 discussionbut
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 ***.
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:
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
processremember we discussed this as laid down in the Governments
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
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
And at 17:03, Richard Flavell:
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:
It is now past 17:00 and everything was set to
distribute our summaryuntil 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 mobile07802 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.
At 19:13, Robin wrote this reply:
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
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 circumstancesbut 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):
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 hospitalon
a suitable site, with appropriate governance and financial arrangementswould
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
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.
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):
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
"The Task Force believes that moving NIMR
to central London in partnership with a leading university and
hospitalon a suitable site, with appropriate governance
and financial arrangementswould 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
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
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.
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
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
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:
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 staffbut 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
inheritednot 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
MRCwhoever 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 reportsomeone
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?
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
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
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 thishe 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 saidand 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:
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
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.
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 sentwhat 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
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
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 convinceindeed 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 counterproductivesuch 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 itit
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
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
I hope that you have seen the messages that David
and I sent last night. David did incorporate the majority of your
changesall 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
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 knownot least from talking to Guy Dodson
on the phone yesterdaythe 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.
And at 10:21 on 23 July, I sent the following
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 processgiven
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 didfor a
time at leastand 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
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 versionechoes 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 hospitalon a suitable site, with appropriate governance
and financial arrangementswould 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
diduntil 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 tomany
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
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 TFbut
that suggestion was rejected by the TF and I was told that it's
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
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 conclusionsin 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-minutebeyond 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.
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:
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:
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 differencesone that
seems to have been successful. But why would you do this? I assume
this is another deliberate ployan 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 truewe
were trying to reach a compromise that would allow everyone to
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
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 contentioussolving 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 takenwhich 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
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 outsideI 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:
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.
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:
Many thanks. I do feel good about things, although
I am exhausted (the effects of the wine and whisky contributing
to thisbut 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:
The final statement looks very good to me.
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 unanimousthat
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
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
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