Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Report



36. MRC states in evidence that the consultation on the FIS proposals demonstrated some concern about the proposals for NIMR and it produced a particularly hostile reaction from staff at NIMR itself. It therefore decided to establish a Task Force on NIMR with a remit to start with a "clean sheet" and to consider and consult upon "a broader set of options for the size and location of NIMR than those originally proposed by the FIS subcommittee".[69] MRC should be given credit for listening to the Forward Investment Strategy consultation and, contrary to fears in some quarters about the imposition of the FIS proposals, reconsidering its options. The establishment of a Task Force with a remit to start again was the right decision.


37. The terms of reference of the Task Force, announced in July 2003, were:

To make recommendations to the MRC's Council on the future of the NIMR including:

We have noted that the clean sheet of paper approach in respect of the future of Mill Hill was the right way to go about re-examining the issue. Whilst the potential consideration of all options for the future location did little to stabilise the situation, it nonetheless sent an important message that there was still a possibility of NIMR remaining at Mill Hill, provided that it stood up to comparison of other options by the distinguished panel of scientists established to consider the issue afresh.


38. The Task Force was chaired by the MRC Chief Executive, Professor Colin Blakemore, and consisted of nine other members plus an observer. Membership was as follows:

Professor Alan Bernstein, President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Professor Kay Davies, Professor of Anatomy and Honorary Director, MRC Functional Genetics Unit, University of Oxford

Professor Richard Denton, Department of Biochemistry, University of Bristol

Professor Richard Flavell, Chairman, Section of Immunobiology, Howard Hughes Institute, Yale University School of Medicine

Steve Gamblin, NIMR

Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Genetics, NIMR

Dr Sir Paul Nurse, President, Rockefeller University, NY

Professor Stephen Tomlinson, Provost, Wales College of Medicine, biology, Life Sciences and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University

Dr Peter Gruss, Director, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

Dr Alison Spaull from the Department of Health in the Scottish Executive sat on the Task Force as an Observer.

39. The membership was determined jointly by MRC and NIMR. In addition to the two NIMR staff on the Task Force (Dr Lovell-Badge and Dr Gamblin), NIMR was asked to nominate three other members (Sir Paul Nurse, Professor Flavell and Dr Gruss). Dr Peter Gruss resigned from the Task Force in March 2003 due to the pressure of other commitments. The MRC asked two members of its Council to serve on the Task Force (Professor Davies and Professor Denton) and nominated two other members (Professor Tomlinson and Professor Bernstein). There were therefore five nominees or representatives from "each side", who provided a broad range of experience and expertise from different disciplines and also an international perspective. This was a sensible way of assembling a Task Force. MRC had learned the lessons of the FIS Subcommittee by including Mill Hill representatives in the review and had wisely sought to guarantee an international and independent element with the non-UK-based scientists.


40. All members of the Task Force were expected to approach their work with an open mind and to base their views on the evidence that was gathered. However, those from the MRC and from NIMR found themselves in a potentially difficult position given the antagonism that the initial proposals generated and the firm opposition of staff at Mill Hill. The position of the Chairman is discussed in paragraphs 42-46 below. The other MRC members were not there to represent any MRC position and, whilst their views tended to lean towards those of the Chairman on issues of controversy, there is no suggestion that they were anything other than fully engaged members of the group giving their independent professional views.

41. The two NIMR members, in addition to their role as independent members of the Task Force, had a second role of keeping NIMR staff informed about the workings and conclusions of the Task Force.[70] They were not there to represent or convey the views of NIMR management back to the Task Force, but they may have felt an underlying pressure to reflect the concerns of those with whom they worked. Their position was described by Professor Flavell as "… impossible. They were being squeezed from both directions. I am sure that they had pressure from their colleagues in the sense that there was the expectation that they were to present their views and they were getting pressure from Colin in the other direction".[71] Professor Blakemore also refers to the "impossible position" the two NIMR members were put in, having to play an open role in the Task Force yet also acting, he says, as agents for the opinion of Sir John Skehel.[72] He recalls that they "expressed their own frustration in this dual role at several points in discussion".[73] The inherent difficulty of their position was perhaps most obviously exposed in the exchanges between Task Force members on the wording of its final meeting summary and the report which followed its final meeting. This is discussed further in paragraphs 65-81. However, it is clear from the email correspondence that both members engaged fully with the process and were prepared with the rest of the Task Force to work to achieve a consensus based upon the evidence available to them. Professor Davies and Professor Tomlinson both praised the professional way in which they behaved.[74] Professor Denton believed that the two NIMR members were in "an increasingly difficult position and probably came under great pressure from their colleagues and Director to defend NIMR as it is currently set up".[75] We discuss this pressure in paragraphs 82-87 below. The evidence we have seen suggests that both Dr Lovell-Badge and Dr Gamblin participated in the Task Force with objectivity and professionalism and handled a difficult situation very well.

Role of the Chairman and Task force secretariat

42. The role of Chairman of the Task Force was not one that Professor Blakemore chose for himself. He told us that the MRC Council invited him and his predecessor to co-chair the Task Force and that the latter had retired by the time the first meeting took place. He said that "I was absolutely sure that it was appropriate that the Chief Executive should be present during the discussions, since they were of such enormous strategic importance for MRC". At the first meeting, and with the permission of the Task Force, he asked consultants to facilitate the meetings "so as to liberate me from the Chairman role and allow me to participate fully in the discussions".[76] Professor Blakemore points out that the Task Force was not intended to be a totally independent external inquiry into NIMR, but a means of taking forward the FIS proposals in a more open process.[77] He reports that he actually chaired "rather little" of the meetings. MRC states that "In practice the work was shared between the chair, the secretariat and the consultants who worked interchangeably on occasions—this was essential in progressing the volume of business and in making optimal use of members' time".[78] The consultants confirmed that Professor Blakemore frequently handed over the Chair to the consultants in order that he could participate fully in discussions.[79]

43. The fact that Professor Blakemore successfully sought to hand over some of the responsibilities of chairing the Task Force to consultants serves to indicate that the workload involved was far too great for someone simultaneously tasked with running the MRC and also that he was not entirely comfortable with the situation in which he found himself. He himself describes it as "complex and extremely difficult".[80] Indeed, he expressed his reservations about chairing the Task Force at its first meeting.[81] Sir Paul Nurse said that "the Chairman had a double role and I think that is an extremely difficult role to manage".[82] Sir Paul personally drew the lesson from the Task Force process that in major investigations the CEO should be kept separate and the Task Force should report to him.[83] Professor Tomlinson said about this issue, "I think if we were to start again, the question would have to be asked".[84]

44. The position of the Chairman was awkward on a number of fronts. First, he faced the dual responsibilities of being an independently minded member of the Task Force tasked with looking again at an issue on which MRC had been forced to step back, whilst at the same time being CEO of the organisation as a whole. He may have been new to the post and thus not party to any of the FIS process, but he was nonetheless a Chairman with considerable power and influence over MRC and its employees. Indeed, his position as employer of two of the Task Force members also put this relationship on a different footing from that with the other members of the Task Force. Whilst the two NIMR members were far from reticent in disagreeing with and even criticising the Chairman on occasion, the professional relationship between them was a factor. Likewise, the two MRC Council members may have felt more constrained in expressing their views than they would with a completely independent Chairman. Finally, Professor Blakemore was both Chairman of the Task Force, with the associated responsibilities of driving the work forward and securing a consensus, and also at times, an ordinary participating member seeking, like others, to persuade colleagues of his viewpoint and interpretation of the evidence presented. It would have been easier for him and other members of the Task Force if he had been able to act as an ordinary member of the Task Force and there had been an independent chairman with the job of engineering a consensus. The appointment of an independent chairman would also have served to increase confidence in the process without forfeiting the overall control of the process that MRC rightly felt it needed to have. Senior management could have been strongly represented on the Task Force in another way. Given what had gone before with the FIS Subcommittee, it was naive of the MRC Council not to foresee the dangers of asking its Chief Executive to chair a Task Force seeking to undertake a fresh and open-minded review.

45. In terms of the way Professor Blakemore chaired the actual meetings of the Task Force, we heard few complaints. Professor Tomlinson and Professor Davies agreed that he behaved with integrity and did not exert undue pressure.[85] Sir Paul Nurse said that "I thought he chaired the meetings well and reasonably fairly. He did express his opinions but I felt that was okay".[86] Professor Denton thought that he carried out the "extremely challenging" role of Chairman "rather well". Professor Davies noted that it was the consultants who produced the summaries for agreement at the end of the meetings, so they were in no way steered by the Chairman.[87] Professor Blakemore sought to the chair the meetings in a dispassionate way and said that he expressed his views no more forcefully than anyone else.[88] We conclude that, as far as we can tell, Professor Blakemore handled the meetings of the Task Force with professionalism, objectivity and competence. It was his role in between meetings that was the cause of some concern among some other members of the Task Force, as is discussed in paragraphs 50-52 below.

46. In addition to recruiting consultants to help with the work, the Task Force was also served by a member of MRC's staff as the secretariat. Aside from chairing some parts of meetings, the consultants were responsible for conducting the various opinion surveys that informed the work of the Task Force and for interviewing a selection of NIMR staff and others. Although they facilitated many of the early conference calls between Task Force members, after the call of 2 July their role was "very different" and they only listened in to parts of subsequent calls.[89] They were not party to much of the email correspondence between meetings. The consultants drafted the summary of the fifth meeting for discussion at the end of the same meeting but the MRC secretariat was responsible for subsequently finalising this text and undertook the bulk of the work in drafting the final report. Most witnesses from the Task Force confirmed the value of the consultants' role and praised their contribution.[90] Professor Denton was "initially sceptical" about the inclusion of consultants but believed that, without them, the work of the Task Force could not have been completed in the time that it was.[91] The only criticisms of their role came from Dr Gamblin, who blamed the consultants for a "failure to keep the process focussed on the key objectives"[92] and from a head of division at NIMR, Professor Dodson. He referred to the "limited knowledge that consultants have about MRC culture" and suggested that their use contributed to the lack of direct productive contact between the MRC and NIMR".[93] Given the suspicions at NIMR about the motives of MRC, we fully understand why Professor Blakemore sought the consent of the Task Force for enlisting the help of independent consultants to help him perform his role. The choice of a largely independent secretariat was a politically astute, if expensive, move under the circumstances. We have no criticisms of the role of the consultants and secretariat to the Task Force.

Working methods and transparency

47. The Task Force held five meetings in total, between November 2003 and June 2004. No verbatim record of the meetings was kept and no formal minutes were taken. Instead, after each meeting a summary of its proceedings and any decisions taken was agreed between the members either during or after the meetings and was subsequently published on the MRC website. Between meetings, there was email correspondence between the Task Force members, partly on the wording of these summaries but also more generally on the discussions at the meetings and the direction of their work. There were also conference calls involving as many members of the Task Force as were able to attend, again, mainly at the end of the process to agree the wording of the Task Force's final summary and report. It was agreed at the outset that email correspondence between Task Force members would be posted on the MRC website unless it was specifically marked confidential. As is evident from the MRC website, there was a significant amount of confidential email traffic. With the permission of the authors, we have placed this in the Record Office so that a fuller record of the Task Force's proceedings can be seen. We hope that this will serve to provide a more informed view for those who wish to study the decision-making process. The nature of the disagreements within the Task Force at the end of the process is already well known, and much has already been made public in published emails by Task Force members and statements by NIMR Heads of Division on its website. As far as we are aware, only one non-confidential email, from Dr Lovell-Badge to Professor Blakemore, was deliberately not published on the website by the MRC secretariat after advice over its contents was taken from the MRC's legal adviser on personnel matters.[94]

48. We believe the way in which the Task Force set about conducting its business was reasonable. Its members were all in busy full time jobs at the time and some were working outside the UK. Time constraints in meetings and developments between meetings meant that there were certain issues which needed to be addressed outside the formal meetings. The practical difficulties involved in holding meetings and even conference calls meant that email correspondence was the only practical way to operate in what was acknowledged by Professor Tomlinson to be a continual process rather than simply five separate meetings.[95] Professor Denton says that the communication difficulties between meetings were largely the result of members having other commitments.[96] For the most part, these arrangements, though far from ideal, worked well enough. It was only after the final meeting that, as we discuss later, the limitations of remote meetings began to be tested and the practical difficulties of organising another meeting at short notice became significant to the work of the Task Force.[97]

49. The publication of this email traffic is, for a task force of this sort, unusual if not unprecedented. For some of those involved in the process, the process was as open as it could have been. Professor Davies described it as a "model of transparency".[98] Given the ill-feeling and mistrust which followed the FIS Committee's proposals, the MRC was right to make the work of the Task Force as transparent as possible. We believe that the Task Force was sensible in agreeing and publishing a summary after each meeting. The proceedings of the Task Force were more open and transparent than those of many similar bodies and members should be commended for adopting this approach.

50. The failure of the Task Force to have formal minutes taken and agreed has been criticised in some quarters. One head of division at NIMR described this as a "disaster for NIMR:MRC relations" and said that this must have contributed to the disputes over what had been agreed and subsequent reports from the Task Force.[99] The absence of a full record was most keenly felt when the consensus of the Task Force disintegrated following the final meeting on the issue of whether the Mill Hill site remained an active option when the exact words and views of every member needed to be established in order for the report to reflect the majority view of the group.[100] The secretary to the Task Force said in evidence to us that "No doubt a verbatim record would have been helpful in resolving current differences of recollection about Task Force meetings. But anything short of a verbatim record (for example, traditional minutes) would have taken considerable time and effort to agree and publish, and would have been unlikely to add value to the process".[101] We tend to agree. It is easy with hindsight to criticise the failure to keep detailed minutes of the meetings. The Committee was seeking to work by consensus to achieve an end product. It also sought to keep a record of what it had agreed and to inform the public of this by carefully agreeing at the meeting and publishing afterwards a summary of each meeting. There was no expectation at the outset that there would be any need for a verbatim record of each member's contribution to the continuing discussions, nor was there much indication as the Task Force progressed that there was any need for it. The problems it began to experience were when agreements began to be unpicked, as we discuss in paragraphs 82-87. It does not seem to us that the keeping of formal minutes in meetings would have prevented this happening.


51. In addition to the published material, there was also activity between meetings that remained private, either in the form of bilateral email correspondence or telephone calls. This level of contact between meetings was, for Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Davies, higher than they might normally expect for such committees.[102] Dr Lovell-Badge said that "I do not know how he [Professor Blakemore] treated the other TF members, but I understand that such phone calls, often late at night and at weekends, were not uncommon".[103] Professor Blakemore acknowledges that there was a greater interchange between members than is usual in such committees but states that there was "nothing sinister" in this—rather it was a necessary attempt to try to achieve or preserve consensus in a sometimes divided group.[104]

52. It is not unreasonable for members of a committee with such a delicate and important task in wishing to retain a degree of confidentiality: indeed, some may feel that full and frank discussion demand it. In fact, it was the very transparency of the process that enabled interested parties to respond to and lobby against the Task Force's conclusions as they were being developed. It is the role of the Chairman to try to find consensus and this, in practice, can necessitate a certain amount of private discussion in the corridors and on the telephone. There is not necessarily anything untoward in such activity. As Professor Tomlinson said "Just because there was a great deal of email correspondence and even telephone calls does not mean that there is a conspiracy; it is the Task Force trying to inform itself".[105] Members of the Task Force were aware of such bilateral discussions taking place. Sir Paul Nurse told us that "It was more these outside discussions which made me more concerned because I do not know what else was going on in the one-to-one discussions. I always think in difficult situations like this you are best having more group meetings because one-to-one conversations can be so easily misinterpreted".[106] There comes a point at which the scale of the outside-meeting contacts serves to undermine the transparency of the process and damage trust between members. Whether this point was reached in the minds of some Task Force members we cannot say. However, we note that there was never any complaint, or indeed discussion, in a meeting of the way in which the business of the Task Force was being conducted.[107]

The work of the Task Force

53. We did not seek in our short inquiry to replicate the work of the panel of distinguished scientists that served on the Task Force, but merely to satisfy ourselves that proper consideration was given to all aspects of its remit and that the conclusions that it reached were those agreed by its members.


54. It was within the remit of the Task Force to "frame the business case" for future investment in NIMR. Many witnesses speculate about the high costs of a move to London and complain that, for example, "the decision to exclude Mill Hill as the status quo option appears to have been made without comparing the relative costs and benefits of staying at Mill Hill with those of moving to central London".[108] The Task Force commissioned a building consultant to estimate the costs of upgrading the existing facilities at Mill Hill against which to compare the bids. It produced a range of options, depending on the extent of refurbishment, although we note that NIMR disputes the extent of refurbishment required.[109]

55. The original estimates from the two London bidders to host the NIMR, University College, London (UCL) and Kings College, London (KCL) were of the order of £115 to £125 million. An additional £5 million a year is estimated to fall to the MRC's resource budget as a result of the proposed relocation, but the possibility of other non-MRC capital contributions might offset these costs. The Task Force noted that the UCL bid was "financially somewhat less favourable" for the MRC but would give better access to a critical mass of very high quality biomedical research and physical sciences. The Task Force referred to additional staff costs associated with a move to London and the possible savings stemming from shared services but it acknowledges that it was not able to conduct a detailed analysis of the proposed options, so no definitive estimate of costs could be made.[110]

56. The two bidders, King's College and UCL, were asked to submit the science case for hosting NIMR for consideration by the MRC Council on 15 December. Neither submission contained detailed estimates of the costs of constructing the new facilities nor reliable information on how much will be provided by the university or by other sources. The MRC subsequently received some slightly more detailed information on the finances from the bidders than is contained in their original confidential submissions but the MRC Council, at its meeting on 15 December, nevertheless asked for further information from both bidders. It said that "neither yet fully met the vision for NIMR that Council sought".[111] This further information will be considered at its meeting in February 2005. The MRC evidence states that a final decision will be based on the FIS principles, one of which relates to added value/opportunity cost and another relates to the need to retain financial flexibility to capitalise on new scientific opportunities.[112]

57. Dr Lovell-Badge states in evidence that the Task Force was given mixed messages about the financial constraints within which they were working: they were told that the Government could always be persuaded to provide the money if the case was good but also that there could be no increase in current expenditure from MRC.[113] MRC acknowledges that "the capital expenditure required is almost certainly greater than we can fully finance from our own resources and that the final proposal will need to go forward to RCUK/OST as an application to the Large Facilities Fund".[114] Professor Blakemore said that he had had informal discussions with OST over the issue but that no guarantees had been made about the availability of future funding.[115]

58. In his evidence to us, Dr Gamblin from NIMR states that "The likely financial implications of the two central London options that appeared in the final Task Force report were only available to the Task Force a matter of days before the completion deadline and were added to the report rather than being a part of the decision making process".[116] During the discussions relating to the final report of the Task Force, Professor Davies highlighted the need to develop the financial cases of the London options further in order to make a comparison with Mill Hill.[117] Professor Flavell and Sir Paul Nurse told us that the Task Force "did not do a proper job on costings", largely because they did not have sufficient information before them. Professor Tomlinson agreed that there were no full financial cases for the Task Force to consider.[118] Professor Blakemore said that the Task Force did have an indication of the financial contributions that could be made by the two London bidders along with estimates of the likely value of the Mill Hill site and the ability of MRC to make a capital contribution towards a renewed institute. He also acknowledged that the Task Force could not perform a comprehensive analysis of costs because a full business appraisal had not been drawn up.[119]

59. As we have argued earlier in this Report, the financial aspects of the proposed move must be an important consideration. We are satisfied that the Task Force attempted to collate appropriate financial information and to compare future costs at Mill Hill with those at the proposed London sites, as the information materialised. It was also right to stress the need for this information to be used in a comparison of the London bids with Mill Hill. As Task Force members pointed out, there was much detailed financial information that was not available to them as the London bids were still in the process of being compiled. This information, as far we can gather, is still being assembled. We are not yet aware of how much capital funding of their own the two bidders might be able to bring to the table. There was and is also uncertainty over whether the proceeds of any sale of the Mill Hill site will be available for MRC to use and over whether OST will be willing to provide the additional capital funding required from the Large Facilities Fund.[120] We note that the Task Force was content to make a recommendation in principle in favour of a co-located site in London without having the full information before it. We believe that such information must be included in any comparison of the London bids with the base case put forward by NIMR. We recommend that, before reaching any final decision on the future location of NIMR, the MRC Council satisfies itself that it has given full consideration to the availability of funds from all potential sources.


60. In its first three meetings the Task Force considered the range of options available for NIMR and drew on the experiences of institutes abroad to consider different models of funding of research. It reached a consensus that NIMR should remain intact as an institution in the London area with a focus on translational research. The Task Force concluded that only a London location could guarantee an excellent initial science base for the institute. Some witnesses argue in favour of the break up of NIMR and the relocation of its facilities and resources at different university/hospital sites. This "virtual NIMR" option was considered and rejected by the Task Force on the grounds that it was desirable to maintain a critical mass at one site. It agreed that the options of co-location in central London and a reconfigured Mill Hill site would be explored and it proceeded on this basis.

61. In the evidence we received there are arguments on both sides about the impact that a central London location would have on recruitment. Some witnesses point to the magnetic value of London for top class scientists while others emphasise the adverse impact that high costs of living might have. The Task Force concluded that, on balance, a London location should benefit recruitment, although there is little evidence that either NIMR or MRC have attempted any specific analysis of this issue.

62. Much of the opposition to a central London option focuses on the difficulties of replicating the secure and first class animal facilities that exist at Mill Hill and point to the recent difficulties experienced at Oxford and Cambridge with protestors. The Task Force report states that the provision of suitable animal facilities will be "a major project in its own right" and that "it is possible that insufficient account has been taken of the 9000m2 that current animal facilities occupy at Mill Hill".[121] Another weakness cited is the need to build on the new site a new high level Category 4 isolation facility for dangerous pathogens needed by NIMR, with all the attendant security implications and costs. The re-creation of such facilities in central London is described by one witness from Imperial College as "illogical, expensive and wasteful".[122] Others point to the flexibility on the Mill Hill site for future expansion of these facilities that would not exist on a central London site.

63. We have not gone over the arguments themselves but sought to establish whether the Task Force gave serious and comprehensive consideration to the option of NIMR remaining at Mill Hill. In a statement to the Committee signed by all members of the Task Force except Dr Lovell-Badge and Dr Gamblin said that "the views of staff at NIMR and the proposals for the Mill Hill site were fully considered".[123] Dr Gamblin argued in evidence that the Mill Hill option was never fully considered by the Task Force and that the statement put out by the Task Force was therefore wrong.[124] Other Task Force members disagreed. We found persuasive the view of Sir Paul Nurse, one of the NIMR nominees to serve on the Task Force, who told us that "I do think Mill Hill was considered as an option in a reasonable way".[125] Professor Davies said in the email traffic after the last meeting that a careful examination of the Mill Hill option should be made but that "this is not the job of the current TF".[126] We find this statement odd: the job of the Task Force was to start again with a clean sheet of paper and devoted a considerable amount of time to looking at Mill Hill. If Mill Hill was never in the running as a long term option we are surprised that it was considered at all, other than as a point of comparison. Such confusion about the role of the Task Force may have served to fuel the misinterpretation that was to arise following the publishing of its conclusions.[127]

64. Mill Hill representatives were given the opportunity to present their case to the Task Force. Sir John Skehel, after initially seeking to serve on the Task Force himself, had his request to attend the parts of meetings not relevant to the appointment of his successor granted, and he attended most of its meetings. He presented the basis of the enhanced base case at Mill Hill to the final meeting of the Task Force on 21 June. Other presentations were made by Heads of Division at NIMR and open discussion meetings and workshops with staff were also held. Members of the Task Force reported that both NIMR members were helpful in providing data, information and a perspective from Mill Hill to the discussions.[128] The view of Professor Blakemore was that "overall, the Mill Hill site received enormously more attention from the Task Force than any other option".[129] We conclude that the Task Force went about its decision making on a future location for NIMR in a rational and coherent manner and are satisfied that it gave due consideration to the benefits of NIMR remaining at Mill Hill for the long term. We deal with the Task Force's consideration of Mill Hill as a fall back position in paragraphs 82-87 below.

Concluding stages of Task Force

65. We discuss here in some detail the closing stages of the Task Force's work, largely because the exchanges during this time led to the break down in relations between MRC and NIMR and were central to the allegations of coercion we explore in paragraphs 92-111. Box 1 indicates the significant dates and events during this period.

Box 1

Sunday 21 JuneFifth and final meeting of Task Force (TF)
Friday 25 JuneConference call which agreed wording of summary of Fifth meeting of TF
Monday 28 June 17.00: deadline set for receipt of any proposed amendments to draft summary
Monday 28 June23.30: Phone conversation between Blakemore and Lovell-Badge
Wednesday 30 June   Publication of summary of Fifth meeting of TF
Friday 2 JulyConference call to discuss draft report
Monday 12 JulyConference call to discuss draft report
Thursday 15 JulyConference call to discuss draft report
Monday 19 July Final conference call to agree wording of draft report
Wednesday 21 July"First thing": deadline for "minor" amendments to draft report
Wednesday 21 July12.05 pm: Substantive amendments sent to MRC secretariat by Dr Gamblin
Thursday 22 July Distribution of final TF Report
Thursday 29 July MRC Council meeting to consider Task Force report
Friday 30 JulyPublication of Task Force report and MRC press notice


Agreement of the meeting summary

66. At its final meeting on 21 June the Task Force apparently reached a consensus on the content of its conclusions and agreed the wording of the meeting summary. There was an evident sense of achievement and relief after this meeting. Professor Tomlinson referred to the sense of excitement that Task Force members felt about the consensus that had been achieved.[130] It is apparent from the email correspondence that members of the Task Force, including the Chairman, believed in the immediate aftermath of the meeting that their main job had been completed successfully. It was, given the starting positions of Task Force members and the disagreements during its proceedings, a commendable achievement to reach a consensus and agree unanimously on a set of conclusions.

67. It was only after the final meeting of the Task Force that the NIMR representatives began to question exactly what had been agreed. The conclusions document was re-circulated to members after some changes had been made to reflect the concerns of the Director of the Clinical Sciences Centre about the distinctiveness of the two institutes' missions. The draft from the meeting had been forwarded to him for information. Dr Lovell-Badge replied to this email on 23 June, suggesting further small but significant changes that introduced greater conditionality about the wording relating to the move to London.[131] After further exchanges, the final wording of the text was agreed during the conference call on Friday 25 June, in which both Dr Lovell-Badge and Dr Gamblin participated.[132] It was then published on the MRC website on 30 June as the "Conclusions of the Fifth Task Force Meeting". This summary recommends that:

    "the MRC take forward its partnership negotiations with two institutions: King's College and University College (bearing in mind the unanimous support for a single site). 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".[133]

68. The document sets out a number of recommendations for NIMR to take towards strengthening its delivery against its new vision. It also states 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".[134]

It made no mention of how any such a judgement might be made nor, crucially, of what would happen in the event of any partnership agreement being less favourable than a university and NIMR at Mill Hill.

69. At 12.53pm on Monday 28 June Dr Lovell-Badge emailed the Task Force to suggest that the wording of the summary that had been agreed "did not make sufficiently clear that Mill Hill remained a valid option to which the other bids have to be compared".[135] Professor Blakemore then emailed the Task Force, urging others on the Task Force to dissuade Dr Lovell-Badge from pursuing these changes. He explained that he thought that Sir John Skehel had been "putting pressure on Robin" and that any further changes at this stage would be embarrassing to him (Blakemore) because he had already circulated the draft conclusions to some of those who had made presentations to the Task Force and to OST and the MRC Chairman in advance of the planned distribution of the summary later that day, 28 June.[136]

70. Professor Blakemore appealed to Dr Lovell-Badge to withdraw his proposed amendments because they would misrepresent the views of the Task Force. If he was unwilling to do so, Professor Blakemore suggested that the summary should be issued as planned but with the wording changed to indicate that it was a majority view. Professor Flavell emailed the group on 28 June to express his preference that Mill Hill should be included as a fall back option in order to strengthen the MRC's negotiating position with the two London bidders, and that this fall back position should be made clear in public. This plea for clarity was repeated in a further email from Professor Flavell which did not reach the Task Force until after the summary had been finalised on 29 June. Professor Tomlinson and Professor Denton did not agree to any changes and supported the issuing of the statement as drafted.

71. Professor Blakemore sought to contact Dr Lovell-Badge during the day on 28 June but without success. Eventually they spoke by telephone late that evening. This is the conversation in which Dr Lovell-Badge alleges that Professor Blakemore attempted to coerce him into agreeing the summary. We discuss this specific allegation in paragraphs 92-101. After this conversation Professor Blakemore emailed the Task Force to ask if they wished to stick with the summary that had been agreed. He also indicated, given the hostility he had experienced, that it might be more constructive for someone else to take forward negotiations with Dr Lovell-Badge on behalf of the Task Force.[137]

72. The following morning Dr Lovell-Badge confirmed to the group that he was content to agree to the wording of the summary, on the understanding 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".[138] The summary report was then distributed to interested parties in Government later that evening (replacing the earlier version sent) and published on the MRC website the following day.

Reasons for late objections

73. Dr Lovell-Badge explained that the delay in communicating his objections was due to the fact that it emerged that "at least four of the people who left the [final] Task Force meeting were clearly under the belief that Mill Hill was on the table, it was an option. It was only subsequently that it became clear, from conversations with Colin Blakemore and others, that in his view it was not an option, and this was against the decision that we agreed on the day".[139] Dr Gamblin confirmed his view that the recommendation of the Task Force was conditional on the central London options providing a better scientific environment than Mill Hill.[140] Another view is that the objections followed discussions after the meetings between the two Mill Hill representatives and NIMR management. This we discuss further in paragraphs 84-87 below.

Discussions in final Task Force meeting

74. The proceedings of the final Task Force meeting are the subject of some dispute. According to NIMR evidence, during this meeting five of the seven members present declared their preferences for a single site either at Mill Hill or in central London (Nurse, Flavell, Lovell-Badge, Gamblin and Tomlinson) but following subsequent persuasion five out of nine Task Force members excluded the Mill Hill site as an option (Blakemore, Bernstein, Denton, Tomlinson and Davies)".[141] Professor Flavell gave his view that five of the seven there thought that Mill Hill was a viable option.[142] Professor Blakemore rejects the assertion by Dr Gamblin that five of the seven present at the final meeting "thought that the Mill Hill site was a potential long-term option".[143] It should be noted that Sir Paul was not in favour of Mill Hill being considered as a long term option, as we see below. He suggested at the final meeting that the Task Force could simply record the voting but argued that this might weaken the impact of an otherwise unanimous report.[144] According to Dr Lovell-Badge, Professor Blakemore ruled that Mill Hill could not be considered an option due to the insufficient discussion of the issue at the meeting. In a subsequent email to Professor Blakemore he referred to this as "a notable failure of your chairmanship … This was to avoid a proper and full discussion of the Mill Hill bid at the 5th meeting".[145] Professor Blakemore points out that the consultants, rather than he, were chairing the meeting at the time the bids were considered and that each one was discussed for "roughly the same (short) amount of time".[146] He states that the general discussion of the issue of the Mill Hill option was terminated by the remark by Sir Paul Nurse that "It's obvious that Mill Hill is not an option in the long run".[147] Sir Paul confirmed to us that he had made this remark but said that he later argued for the maintenance of Mill Hill as a fall back position.[148] Dr Lovell-Badge, for one, did not interpret this comment by Sir Paul to mean that Mill Hill was no longer an option on the table."[149]

75. The failure to give proper consideration to the Mill Hill option at the last meeting was the major criticism from NIMR about the work of the Task Force. It is clear that the precise status of the Mill Hill option was not discussed at the fifth meeting, an omission which Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Flavell regarded as "big error".[150] Professor Blakemore acknowledged that the Task Force did not discuss the question explicitly and "Perhaps that was an omission on our part, but I think that it reflected our general enthusiasm for the key recommendation …".[151] At the fifth meeting the Task Force seemed to avoid resolution of the status of Mill Hill as an "active" third option, as a fall back option or neither. In retrospect, this was a major failing of the Task Force as a whole, and in particular of those present at the last meeting. Whilst the focus on the preferred options was understandable, it was remiss of the Task Force not to consider the status of Mill Hill as an option and to leave the position unclear. This failing led to different interpretations of the conclusions of the Task Force and undermined the rest of the process.


76. Following the publication of the summary of the final meeting, the Task Force then went on to work on its full final report. A sub-committee of Task Force members, including Dr Lovell-Badge and chaired by Professor Blakemore, was established with the intention that it would produce a report that could be agreed and sent to the MRC Council by 19 July.[152]

77. During this email debate Task Force members discussed the status of the Mill Hill option. Professor Blakemore and other members were opposed to the fall back option but Professor Blakemore did not seem keen to be explicit on this point: "Given the fact that we have said that Mill Hill is doing very good work, and that bids have to be judged against what is already at Mill Hill, they might see Mill Hill as the 'fall back'. But I don't think that we are in a position to give them a clear steer on this".[153] Another concern was that staff at Mill Hill would not engage fully in developing links with the London bidders if there was still a prospect of staying at Mill Hill. After some further exchanges Professor Blakemore identified that the Task Force was split 5-4 against specifying that Mill Hill was a fall back option. He argued in favour of trying to reach a consensus instead of producing a split report, which would carry less weight with Council.[154]

78. In view of the unresolved disagreement, the Chairman circulated a draft paragraph explaining that, in the time available, agreement had not been reached on the status of the Mill Hill option. This draft was discussed and agreed during a conference call on 15 July.[155] A final conference call, to agree the whole report, was arranged for 19 July. During this call, participated in by seven Task Force members, including the two NIMR members, the wording of the final report was agreed. The deadline for any further corrections to the text was set for "first thing" on the morning of Wednesday 21 July. It was intended to circulate the report to members of the MRC Council in time for its meeting on 29 July.

79. At 5pm on 21 July, after the "first thing" deadline, a large number of substantive amendments were received from Dr Gamblin by the secretariat.[156] In the view of Professor Davies, who responded that evening, expressed surprise at the substance of these amendments and felt that it would be unfair to make substantive changes to what had been agreed by seven Task Force members. Professor Denton agreed with her.[157] The Chairman unsuccessfully tried to contact NIMR members to discuss the amendments. In view of the consensus that had been established during the earlier conference call and the need to circulate a final report, Professor Blakemore agreed to make only the unsubstantive changes suggested by Dr Gamblin and circulated the report on Thursday 22 July. Professor Blakemore suggested to the two NIMR members that they might write separately to the MRC Council setting out where their views conflicted with the conclusions agreed. He also suggested that Professor Flavell attend the Council meeting on 29 July to present these views in person. All three did take this course of action.[158]

80. The NIMR evidence gives its view of the final stages as follows: "The NIMR TF members made extensive efforts to find wordings that enabled the views of the whole TF to be reflected in the final report. Many of these suggestions were rejected by the MRC secretariat or CEO and eventually the MRC CEO took the arbitrary decision to omit the views of the NIMR TF members from the final report and in doing so marginalised them from the TF process".[159] Professor Blakemore took issue with this assessment, suggesting that it was a "misrepresentation" to suggest that MRC secretariat or the CEO rejected the proposed changes. He said that decisions on what changes to include were not arbitrary, but "the only decision possible in the circumstances" and that "We did our very best to incorporate all the non-substantive changes".[160] There was a subsequent argument over whether the amendments proposed by Dr Gamblin were sent, as opposed to received, before the deadline. There were apparently some difficulties with the transmission of email traffic at MRC. We have not sought to resolve this narrow issue. The important point is that the amendments proposed sought to alter the conclusions that had been agreed by all members of the Task Force who participated in the conference call on 19 July.

81. A few days later, on 26 July, Dr Lovell-Badge sent Professor Blakemore a long email in which he claimed that unanimity had only been reached on "ambiguously worded reports" and accusing the Chairman of avoiding the issue because it was contentious.[161] Dr Lovell-Badge said in evidence that he blocked publication of the final report after he had learned that Professor Blakemore contacted Kings' and UCL to tell them "essentially, that it was a straight fight between the two of them". He felt that this was "certainly not in the spirit of the agreement that we had at the meeting". [162] Professor Blakemore argues that he was carrying out the instructions of the Task Force in contacting UCL and KCL and that he "made it absolutely clear" that "any offer would have to be better than could be achieved at Mill Hill for it to be acceptable".[163] The late submission of substantive amendments put the Chairman in a very difficult position, given the desire to report to the Council on 29 July. We discuss the case for an extra meeting of the Task Force below,[164] but, setting this aside, we conclude that Professor Blakemore did everything he reasonably could to take on board late amendments proposed by NIMR Task Force members whilst preserving the will of the majority on the Task Force.


82. Eventually, after the Task Force had failed to reach a consensus on the issue, the following wording was agreed for the final report of the Task Force:

83. It was extremely regrettable that the Task Force members who agreed the wording of texts at the final meeting, again at the conference call on 25 June and then a third time at the final conference call on 19 July subsequently objected to the words that had been agreed. We can understand the frustration of other members and the Chairman of the Task Force with the disintegration of the consensus. NIMR staff members of the Task Force did a remarkable job given the pressure they were under and deserve to come out of the process with great credit. However, the unravelling of agreed texts on three occasions suggest that the pressure to renege on agreements reached in the Task Force proved too great and made the job of running the Task Force and achieving consensus almost impossible.

84. We sought to establish why the consensus apparently agreed in meetings and conference calls and email correspondence repeatedly broke down shortly afterwards. Professor Blakemore alluded to his explanation of why the consensus broke down: "Things began to fall apart after the fifth meeting, and especially after I had communicated the conclusions of that meeting to Sir John [Skehel]".[166] In his mind, it was the conversations between the two NIMR members and NIMR management that were behind the former's efforts to revise the wording that had been agreed. Professor Blakemore alleges that Lovell-Badge, after agreeing the conclusions of the final meeting at the conference call on 25 June, "suddenly changed his position radically after speaking to Sir John Skehel".[167] In one email, sent immediately following Professor Blakemore's heated telephone conversation with Dr Lovell-Badge on 28 June, the Chairman reports that "He [Dr Lovell-Badge] 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".[168] Dr Lovell-Badge told us that his negative opinion of the London bids hardened over time as more information was collated and that his opinion was not determined by colleagues at NIMR, although they shared the same view as his.[169] NIMR evidence states that "At no point was any pressure put on the NIMR TF members by the NIMR management to alter the views they held or expressed to other TF members".[170] The two NIMR members of the Task Force did discuss its work after each meeting with the Heads of Division at Mill Hill, as was consistent with their remit. We recognise that even if there was no intention to exert overt pressure, the two NIMR Task Force members may have felt under an obligation to represent the views of their peers and management to the Task Force.

85. As we have recorded, much of the dissatisfaction at Mill Hill with the process stems from the belief of staff there that the long term option of Mill Hill was not given proper consideration at the final meeting. A statement from NIMR Heads of Division on the process was placed on the NIMR website and circulated to the Task Force on 9 July. It expressed dismay that the Chairman of the Task Force interpreted the conclusions of the Task Force "quite differently" from them.[171] It personalises the issue by implying that this was the interpretation of the Chairman, rather than the majority view on the Task Force. Professor Blakemore complained to Sir John Skehel at the efforts "to try to demonise me in this way".[172] A response from the Heads of Division to the Council's conclusions posted on the website early the next month regretted that the Mill Hill option was not considered, "even though a majority of those members present understood that it would be included in the Task Force recommendations to Council. We are frankly appalled by the mismanagement that, after all this time and effort, led to the failure of the Task Force to consider properly the Mill Hill option".[173] This statement indicates the strength of feeling at NIMR, but it fails to make the distinction between the discussion of the merits Mill Hill as an option, which did take place, and the status of Mill Hill in the event that either of the preferred London options did not prove viable, which was not considered.[174]

86. We asked other members of the Task Force for their understanding of why the consensus broke down. Professor Davies told us that "There was paranoia about whether the NIMR was going to be closed, and we never mentioned that NIMR could be closed at any stage",[175] a point which Professor Tomlinson endorsed.[176] His interpretation was that Dr Lovell-Badge and Dr Gamblin changed their mind because they felt that Mill Hill was vulnerable in the short to medium term.[177] Other members of the Task Force assumed that they were consulting with their colleagues at NIMR. Professor Tomlinson said that he found the breakdown of consensus "extremely disappointing"[178] but thought that it was only natural that the NIMR members should consult with colleagues and report back reflecting views at NIMR: "it was bound to happen, I guess".[179]

87. It is difficult to know the origins of the notion that Mill Hill would be closed if the London bids did not succeed since this was not, as far as we can ascertain, the intention of members of the Task Force, even if this point was not specifically discussed. We have no evidence to suggest that it was an inference deliberately drawn by NIMR management to bolster their opposition to the proposals. Whatever the origin of this fear, it needed to be answered. Because the Task Force was not explicit on the "fall back" position, there was a vacuum that such fears and concerns could fill. They should have been addressed immediately, either by the Task Force or by MRC itself. Professor Davies was not "100 per cent convinced" that more could have been done at the meeting and in conference calls to reassure NIMR staff but she acknowledged the weakness in the Task Force's conclusions: "Maybe we could have been a bit more explicit in the sense that we could have said that our strongly favoured option would be relocation, exploring relocation to KCL and UCL; but that in the end we would obviously return to a comparison with Mill Hill, which we did not state. That would have been more reassuring".[180] We conclude that the failure of the Task Force or MRC to counter authoritatively the fears that NIMR might be closed if the London options failed was a serious error: it contributed further to the uncertainty surrounding the institute's future and contributed to the worsening relations between NIMR staff and MRC.

A sixth meeting

88. Both Professor Flavell and Sir Paul Nurse described the failure of the Task Force to address specifically the issue of Mill Hill as a fall back as a major failing. They felt that there should have been a sixth meeting of the Task Force in order to address this point: "with greater flexibility we could have come to a better solution", Sir Paul Nurse said.[181] Professor Blakemore notes that positions simply hardened in the conference calls following the final meeting. He argues that a further meeting of the Task Force would be "unconstructive and unpleasant" and believes that, in the present circumstances, it would be an "arena for recrimination".[182] Professor Davies said that the only time constraints that affected the work of the Task Force applied after the fifth meeting and the Task Force wanted to report to the MRC Council by its meeting on 29 July.[183] She told us that the Task Force was keen to report to the MRC Council meeting on 29 July in order to move the process forward and minimise the destabilisation of NIMR.[184] She also thought that, in retrospect, a sixth meeting might have been helpful as face-to-face meetings can sometimes achieve more than is possible remote communication.[185] Professor Tomlinson thought that the time for a sixth meeting would have been in July or August and that a further meeting now would not progress matters.[186] The target for reporting to the MRC Council, combined with the practical difficulties for members of fitting the work of the Task Force around their other responsibilities, subjected the task of achieving a consensus to additional pressure. We conclude that the Task Force should have given serious consideration to having a further meeting in order to try to reach an agreed position on whether Mill Hill should be an active third option or a fall back position. The Task Force had already managed to reach a consensus against what must have appeared, at times, to be long odds. Of course, a further meeting may not have been able to reach a form of words that was agreeable to all sides, but, in view of the way in which the Task Force had already worked together to resolve differences of opinion and taking into account the consequences of a divided or minority report, it was worth a try. The Task Force should have considered holding an extra meeting rather than continuing with publication of the report as it stood, if necessary, by asking the MRC Council for more time.

89. We agree with most Task Force members that, given what has happened since, it would not be realistic to reconvene the Task Force at this stage. In view of the very public disagreement there was on the Task Force we believe it unlikely that a re-convened meeting could reach agreement at this stage.

Conclusions on the process

90. We have commented that MRC rightly sought to undertake a more inclusive strategy with its appointment of the Task Force and have recognised that efforts were made to engage with NIMR staff. The lessons of Forward Investment Strategy on engagement had been learned. The participation of NIMR members on the Task Force, though desirable, made the achievement of a consensus on the way forward an extremely challenging goal. Professor Blakemore worked very hard to achieve and then preserve what must have seemed at the outset an unlikely consensus. However, this fragile consensus could be seen to be held together on the basis of a misunderstanding about the future of the institute in the event of neither London bids proving acceptable to MRC. With hindsight, a preferable approach may have been to address the few but significant differences head on and to report back where no agreement could be found. This is what happened eventually, but by then the damage had been done. It was the failure to explain the full implications of the conclusions of the Task Force which contributed to the deterioration in relations between MRC and NIMR. Professor Davies acknowledged that "Maybe we did not communicate well enough in the process".[187] She also said that "If you want to take the opportunity of change, you have got to be able to carry the troops with you and you do not leave them in that unstable land for very long".[188] MRC has signally failed to carry its troops with it in this process.

Accusations of coercion

91. During the course of this inquiry serious allegations were made about the conduct of Professor Blakemore in chairing the Task Force. Given the nature of the allegations and their potential damage to Professor Blakemore and to MRC, we felt obliged to investigate them. We therefore took further written and oral evidence from those directly and indirectly involved. We deal with these specific allegations in turn.


92. During the oral evidence session on 1 December Dr Lovell-Badge told us that "I was in receipt of various forms of attempts at coercion, such as phone calls late at night threatening me with my job".[189] He cited specifically two telephone conversations he had had with Professor Blakemore; one on 15 February, the other on 26 June 2004.

93. The first telephone call on 15 February followed attempts by the Chairman to seek agreement on the wording of the summary of the third meeting of the Task Force on 8 February. Dr Lovell-Badge objected to wording in the draft which referred to a "new" institute with a clear and definitive scientific focus.[190] After further email exchanges between Task Force members Professor Blakemore sent a confidential email to the Task Force setting out his thoughts on the likelihood of capital investment being available for Mill Hill to maintain its existing portfolio and to add new research to it. He said that "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 10-20 year time-scale".[191] The Chairman called Dr Lovell-Badge to discuss this the same day. Professor Blakemore records that "The conversation was not at all acrimonious, and there was no hint of a threat in anything that I said".[192] Dr Lovell-Badge told us that the vision outlined by Professor Blakemore in this phone call would have involved the NIMR losing "at least half the science going on there, including, for example, all the work that I do in stem cells and genetics".[193] He also said that "Colin then asked me, I guess, not to talk about this".[194] Professor Blakemore says that this last remark is "absolutely untrue".[195]

94. The vision outlined by Professor Blakemore was seen by Dr Lovell-Badge as evidence that the Chairman had a "hidden agenda".[196] In an email to the whole Task Force on 15 February he encouraged the Chairman to make his thoughts known. This email from Dr Lovell-Badge to the Task Force does not make reference to any coercion on the part of the Chairman in relation to the telephone call earlier that day. Instead, Dr Lovell-Badge discusses his disagreements with the draft wording and, in particular, the impact of this vision on the staff at NIMR.[197] A final draft of the summary was agreed by the Task Force the following day and published on the website. According to Dr Lovell-Badge, he reported this perceived attempted coercion to his line manager, Sir John Skehel, and considered resigning from the Task Force.[198] In the evidence received in relation to this telephone call we can see nothing that could reasonably be described as coercion. We discuss this exchange further in paragraphs 112-118 in the context of accusations that there was a "hidden agenda" on the part of the Chairman.

95. The second telephone call referred to by Dr Lovell-Badge took place on Monday 28 June, in the context of email correspondence about the final meeting of the Task Force on 21 June and the agreement of the wording of the final meeting summary during a conference call between members of the Task Force on 25 June.[199] The following Monday, 28 June, Dr Lovell-Badge emailed the Task Force to object to the wording that had been agreed. He said that "I know many of you seem content with the Summary as written, but after what was said at the conference call of 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".[200] In oral evidence to us, Dr Lovell-Badge said that he was putting a block on the publication of the summary because Professor Blakemore had contacted the two London bidders and told them "essentially, that it was a straight fight between the two of them … 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".[201]

96. The phone call on 28 June was in fact made by Dr Lovell-Badge at around 11.30pm. He, in turn, was responding to calls from Professor Blakemore which he had failed to pick up on his mobile phone.[202] Dr Lovell-Badge describes the conversation as follows:

    "Colin was very aggressive late that night over the phone. He did not attempt to understand what I was saying. Towards the end of the call he practically shouted something along the lines of 'Robin, I don't know how you dare to challenge me, you work for the MRC and are therefore my employee'. Because he had already said something similar to me at the end of February, I was less shocked than I had been at that time, so I asked him if this was a threat? He did not deny this, but continued: "If you don't sign the report then MRC Council will just close down the Institute". I responded by saying that this sounded like another threat, at which point Colin hung up the phone."[203]

97. For his part, Professor Blakemore denies that he threatened Dr Lovell-Badge. He said that "I deny categorically threatening to dismiss him and I did not use the quoted words".[204] He also denies saying anything to Robin Lovell-Badge "that could have been construed as a threat of dismissal".[205] He states that he is "astounded" by this account of the conversation and that the quotations are "pure invention".[206] His complete recollection of the conversation was that:

    "He was immediately extremely abusive and accused me of pursuing my own agenda….. 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 email) that we could release the statement as a majority view and record his disagreement … This conversation was somewhat "heated"—hardly surprising in the circumstances—but the hostility originated from Robin, who phoned me, very late at night, and immediately poured abuse on me. And at no point during this or any other conversation did I say anything that could possible have been construed as a threat to Robin Lovell-Badge."[207]

The only point of overlap in the two recollections of the conversation, apart from that it was heated, appears to be the acknowledgement from Professor Blakemore that "I did express my surprise that senior MRC staff should be so hostile towards me and the MRC when the MRC owns the institute and employs the staff".[208]

98. The day after this telephone call Dr Lovell-Badge received a call from Professor Blakemore, who apologized for losing his temper and indicated that he had explained to the London bidders that their bids had to be considered in comparison with Mill Hill. Dr Lovell-Badge then agreed to sign the summary on the understanding that Mill Hill was "at least an unstated option".[209] Dr Lovell-Badge also states that he reported what he considered to be threats to his line manager, Sir John Skehel, who states in supplementary evidence that he recollects Dr Lovell-Badge reporting this and previous threats to him.[210] As further evidence to support these allegations, Dr Lovell-Badge also cites his email to the whole Task Force of 26 July, in which he refers to "far too many unpleasant phone conversations with you, where you have generally ignored what I have said, and in some cases even threatened me".[211] Following this long email, which contained strong criticisms of Professor Blakemore's chairmanship of the Task Force, the latter telephoned Dr Lovell-Badge in order to "talk through all these allegations. The conversation was sad rather than heated". When Professor Blakemore asked about the "unpleasant" phone calls Dr Lovell-Badge referred back to the call on 28 June.[212]

99. Dr Lovell-Badge repeated these allegations of threatening calls in a meeting between Professor Blakemore and Heads of Division at Mill Hill on 8 October, at which Professor Blakemore "at first denied this but then admitted that he did recall a heated telephone call".[213] Professor Blakemore recalls that he "did indeed respond by saying that we had had one (but only one) 'heated conversation' (on 28th June), but this was most certainly not an admission of threats".[214] Professor Tomlinson, who was at this meeting, said that he did not recall Dr Lovell-Badge accusing Professor Blakemore of threatening him.[215]

100. In his supplementary evidence, Professor Blakemore finds 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 the 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 Directoral responsibility. In reality, despite Sir John having poured out abuse and accusations against me on many occasions during the work of the Task Force, he never mentioned any complaint from Robin about coercion or threats".[216]

101. We have not found convincing evidence that a complaint by Dr Lovell-Badge about a threat to his job by Professor Blakemore was made at the time of the incidents concerned. Such a serious accusation would have carried more weight had it been made at the time rather than in public during the final stages of the decision making process when relations between NIMR and MRC management had fallen into mutual animosity. It is clear that there were heated exchanges about the inclusion of the Mill Hill option but in the absence of any contemporaneous notes of the conversation we have no way of verifying who said what.


102. In view of the allegations of "extreme persuasion" referred to above we asked other members of the Task Force for their views on the nature of the pressure and persuasion employed during the proceedings of the Task Force.

Professor Tomlinson

103. One particular email from Professor Blakemore to Professor Tomlinson was cited by Sir John Skehel as the most convincing evidence of "extreme persuasion of some members of the Task Force to decide in a particular way".[217] The email was sent on 10 July during the post-fifth meeting exchanges seeking to agree the final report of the Task Force. It was sent in response to a message from Professor Tomlinson that sought to break the deadlock over whether Mill Hill should be included as a third active option alongside the two London bids, as a fall back position, or not be included at all. Professor Tomlinson was about to go on holiday for two weeks, so was not expecting to be involved in the final resolution of the disagreement. The salient part of his email reads:

    "My own view about 'fall-back' remains the same, that is, that we did not explicitly agree such an option. Relocation to Central London either UCL or KCL with a managed transition from Mill Hill is what we agreed. However, if the Task Force now accepts that 'fall back' to Mill Hill was implicit in our discussions, then I suggest we stop using 'fall back', 'back-up' etc and move the debate forward by formally including Mill Hill in the competition now, making it clear that the Council of MRC may reject not just the bids from KCL and UCL, but that from Mill Hill as well".[218]

In response Professor Blakemore sent an email in confidence to Professor Tomlinson, which we publish in full with the evidence. In it he states that:

    "I understand your argument, but it would be seen as caving in to the dirty campaign of John Skehel if we were simply to include Mill Hill as an equal third option…. I personally cannot sign up to a simple 3-option recommendation, but I am desperate to avoid being the only person to be seen to be opposed to the status quo—which is the way it will be represented. You say that the Council might then reject all three options, but if the TF has formally recommended Mill Hill, I have not the slightest doubt that John Skehel will take the MRC to judicial review (he has threatened that already) on the grounds that the Council is overruling the recommendation of the independent TF. So, please withdraw your suggestion for 'formally including Mill Hill in the competition now', Steve. You have made it abundantly clear previously that you don't see Mill Hill as a serious option for the future. Please be brave enough to stick with that view. Please send an email withdrawing it, or I predict that Steve, Robin and Richard will put huge pressure on Kay [Davies] and Dick [Denton] to capitulate".[219]

104. Professor Tomlinson subsequently sent a message to the Task Force withdrawing this suggestion and clarified his position as follows: "I believe the Task Force agreed on relocation of NIMR to either KCL or UCL with a managed transition from Mill Hill over an appropriate period of time. If both bids are rejected by MRC, the Council must reach its own conclusions, but must not be able to use the recommendations of the current Task Force as the reason for NIMR remaining at Mill Hill."[220] In oral evidence to us Professor Tomlinson confirmed that he did not feel coerced.[221] He also said that any "additional evidence of coercion or threats, as far as I am concerned that is all hearsay".[222]

105. We conclude that the email from Professor Blakemore to Professor Tomlinson was not evidence of attempted coercion. Taken in its full context, it reveals that Professor Blakemore was desperate not to cave in to what he clearly viewed was a underhand campaign by NIMR to stay where it is, and also that he did not want to be seen to be forcing through a change. For his part, Professor Tomlinson confirmed that his email suggesting that Mill Hill be considered as an equal option was only his alternative to the "fall back" position that was being suggested, and that he opposed. It was tendered on a conditional basis in order to reach a consensus. He was not being dissuaded from proffering his preferred position, although the withdrawal of this suggestion meant that the crucial issue of the status of the Mill Hill option was not clarified. Having seen the full exchanges of correspondence which formed the background to this email, we do not consider that this email can properly be regarded as evidence of coercion.

Professor Davies

106. Professor Davies assured us that she had not changed her views on the basis of any lobbying during the proceedings. She was unable to attend the fifth meeting, so although she had reported her views in advance to the consultants, which were then considered at the meeting, her exact position on the Mill Hill option was not clear. It was, however, crucial to the Task Force, which was apparently evenly balanced on this issue. She made no complaint that her views had not been taken into account by the Task Force.[223] During the discussion of the wording of the summary of the fifth meeting, Professor Davies pressed for clarity in the wording relating to the position of Mill Hill. In one email on 28 June, she said "I think we should at least clarify what the fall back position is. If NIMR at Mill Hill is out of the question, it may be important to say that now".[224] Two hours later, and without any further email exchanges, she sent another email stating that "Since we are all enthusiastic about the central London possibilities, the summary can stay as it is without further discussion as we clearly think that the new opportunities are exciting and feasible. I favour no further change".[225] We asked Professor Davies what had caused her to change her mind. She explained that she did not want to include Mill Hill as a fall back position because it was not the intention to give that option equal status with the two London bids and because the Task Force wanted to ensure the active engagement of Mill Hill in exploring the favoured options. Professor Davies, who was away at a conference at the time of the email exchange, told us that "Somebody will have spoken to me but I can make up my own mind on that". [226] We have no evidence to believe that Professor Davies was subject to coercion during the Task Force process.

Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Flavell

107. In oral evidence to us, NIMR witnesses cited as evidence of coercion the refusal of both Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Flavell to sign a statement, circulated by the Chairman shortly before the first oral evidence session, saying that the Task Force had operated "without coercion".[227] They told us subsequently in evidence that they declined to sign not because they themselves felt coerced during the Task Force proceedings but in order to attempt to produce a statement that they thought all members of the Task Force would have felt able to sign. Sir Paul Nurse told us that the words as drafted were "too pointed" and that while he felt that he was on the receiving end of "strong persuasion" rather than coercion, others on the Task Force, notably MRC employees, might have thought otherwise.[228] He was also unaware of the substance of the many bilateral telephone calls that had taken place so could not say with complete confidence what had happened elsewhere. Professor Flavell commented that the phone calls from the Chairman in between meetings were "somewhat inappropriate, but I did not feel coerced".[229] Sir Paul Nurse said that he received quite a few calls from Professor Blakemore trying to persuade him of certain opinions[230] and that "I certainly felt that there was a lot of persuasion going on, yes" . Nonetheless he thought that it was "just within the limits but close to the limits in the sense that in my normal experience in such task forces I would not have so many one-to-one conversations outside such a Task Force. I think it was acceptable, but there was certainly a lot of it".[231]

108. Having heard from those concerned, we conclude that the refusal of two members of the Task Force to sign a statement saying that the Task Force had operated without coercion was not in itself evidence that they had been coerced. They felt that the Chairman had stayed just within the bounds of "strong persuasion". Rather, their refusal to sign was an acknowledgement by them that others may have felt coerced. The proposed amendment to the wording was a laudable attempt to produce a statement which all members of the Task Force could support without reservation.

Other members

109. Professor Denton told us that he did not experience "any hint" of coercion by Professor Blakemore and viewed the examples of possible coercion discussed above as "frankly not credible".[232] Dr Gamblin told us that he had not experienced any attempts at coercion.[233]

110. We were not able to take evidence from the other member of the Task Force, Professor Bernstein, in the time we had available. Nevertheless, given that his views were more closely in line with those of the Chairman than some of the others and having seen the confidential email traffic during the Task Force process, we do not believe that he was subjected to any attempts at coercion.


111. The line between strong persuasion and coercion is a thin one and one that might be placed differently by the participants involved, according to their different positions, perceptions and circumstances. One man's coercion is another's sweet surrender. It is natural that those whose views diverged from the consensus the most were subject to the most persuasion. We found no specific credible evidence of coercion. It is unfortunate and regrettable that allegations of this nature, which have proved impossible to uphold, have been made in public and after the event. We heard of efforts at persuasion by Professor Blakemore that were regarded as "somewhat inappropriate" and just within the limits of acceptability. Professor Blakemore was intensely engaged with securing a unanimous consensus for the MRC Council. The means by which he attempted to meet this difficult objective could reasonably be interpreted as heavy handed and inappropriately forceful on occasion. His tactics, as we have seen, very nearly succeeded on three separate occasions. But, as Chief Executive of the organisation dealing with its largest research institute, it was a high risk strategy.

Were there any "hidden agendas"?

112. Many of the complaints about the process found in the written evidence and on the Committee's visit to NIMR focussed on the lack of transparency and a suspected "hidden agenda" of MRC leadership. Some perceived "a small cabal wanting to impose their will on the scientific community".[234] The process is described by some witnesses as "secretive", "high-handed" and "inept",[235] while for others it was "entirely fair, open and transparent".[236] MRC refers to an exhaustive decision making process. Professor Rothwell, a member of the FIS committee, recalls "one of the most extensive, rigorous and consultative reviews of science in the UK that I have observed" and suggests that allegations that there was a predefined agenda at MRC head office "are completely unfounded".[237]

113. Of course, it is only natural that each Task Force member brought with them to the job their own views based on their experiences of the research models that work best. Professor Tomlinson made no secret at the outset of his preferred option: for NIMR to be closed and its resources dispersed to universities throughout the country by MRC. He was subsequently persuaded by the debate in the Task Force that co-location in central London was the best way for it to achieve its agreed vision. We have already referred to the difficult position of the two NIMR members. Whist they made no secret of the benefits of the Mill Hill site as they saw them, they engaged in the process in a professional and independent manner. [238]


114. As we have seen, the members of the Task Force were generally complimentary about the way that Professor Blakemore chaired the Task Force. The only evidence we detected that he may have been seeking to promote a certain outcome relates to the consideration by the Task Force of the "federated" option for NIMR, which involved it being split into four separate London centres. The Task Force had already agreed to a single site option for NIMR at its second meeting and rejected the federated option. The Chairman then emailed each of the non-NIMR members of the Task Force, separately, and the observer, in confidence, at the end of March to enlist their support for this federated option being further discussed.[239]

115. Dr Lovell-Badge and others refer to Professor Blakemore's apparent enthusiasm for the federated option for NIMR as evidence of his "hidden agenda". We have already referred to the telephone conversation between Professor Blakemore and Dr Lovell-Badge on 15 February about the Chairman's vision for a future NIMR that would have led to it being considerably smaller than its existing size.[240] It seems that, during this call, in an effort to secure Dr Lovell-Badge's agreement to what the Task Force had agreed at its meeting, Professor Blakemore explained his thinking for a potential future for Mill Hill, taking into account his understanding of the financial realities applying to further funding. This vision did not appeal to NIMR, and indeed appeared to threaten the future of the institute as currently constituted. The telephone exchange led directly to the Chairman setting out his thinking by email to the whole Task Force and as such, could have been viewed as evidence of an "agenda" which, until that point, the Chairman had not revealed.[241]

116. Dr Lovell-Badge recalls that this so-called federated option was then put back on the agenda for the fourth meeting by the Chairman.[242] Professor Flavell and Sir Paul Nurse confirmed that this option appeared in between two Task Force meetings and that the Chairman solicited support for it separately. Sir Paul said that he could not really understand why it had been brought back on the agenda because it had already been rejected in principle. This contributed to his impression that "sometimes there was more going on outside the meeting than I would normally have expected".[243] Professor Blakemore responds that the proposal for a federated option came in response to the invitation agreed at the third meeting for universities to submit proposals and says that "I thought it would be embarrassing, even offensive simply to dismiss it and exclude KC and UCL from the bidding process".[244] Instead, he encouraged both universities to submit single site bids. He reports that the federated option was then considered at the fourth meeting of the Task Force and rejected.[245] This rejection was accepted by all. Professor Blakemore stresses that he did not try to persuade other members to accept the federated option, but merely urged them to consider it at the next meeting. The majority were happy to do this, although the two NIMR members were "very upset".[246]

117. It is apparent from the email exchanges that Professor Blakemore was attracted to the federated option. He confirmed this to us in evidence.[247] We find it odd that he chose to pursue this option in apparently individual private emails to other non-NIMR members of the Task Force rather than in a full meeting of the group or even a public group email. It was particularly odd for him to seek to persuade the representative from the Department of Health in the Scottish Executive, Dr Spaull, of his view, given that she was only an observer of the process. Indeed, she was "surprised" to receive this email.[248] The sudden re-appearance of the federated option after the Task Force had explicitly ruled it out certainly surprised some members of the Task Force. At the very least, it seems that Professor Blakemore failed to convey adequately the reasons behind this move and thus risked being seen to be giving a second chance to his own favoured option.

118. The only other evidence we found of any possible hidden agenda was the comment by Sir Paul Nurse that towards the end of the process "I began to feel that there was a stronger agenda emerging that was antagonistic to Mill Hill than I had noticed during the Task Force".[249] By this stage, however, relations between NIMR and Professor Blakemore had deteriorated as NIMR staff accused the Chief Executive of seeking to force through the central London option. There was much going on behind the scenes of which Sir Paul, in the United States, may have been unaware. None of the other non-NIMR members could point to any evidence of the Chairman having a hidden agenda.

69   Ev 50 Back

70   Ev 175 Back

71   Q168 Back

72   Ev 213 Back

73   Ev 215 Back

74   Q 297 Back

75   Ev 170 Back

76   Q 10 Back

77   Ev 216 Back

78   Ev 172 Back

79   Memorandum from consultants; not printed Back

80   Ev 213 Back

81   Ev 216 Back

82   Q 142 Back

83   Qs 142, 166 Back

84   Q 294 Back

85   Qs 266-7 Back

86   Q140 Back

87   Q 293 [Davies] Back

88   Ev 235, email 158 Back

89   Memorandum from consultants; not printed Back

90   Q 170, Q 293 Back

91   Ev 170 Back

92   Ev 135 Back

93   Ev 127 Back

94   Ev 168. This email has not been made available in the Record Office.  Back

95   Q 290 Back

96   Ev 170 Back

97   See paras 65-90 below. Back

98   Q 298 Back

99   Ev 128 Back

100   See paras 82-87 below. Back

101   Ev 168 Back

102   Q 133 Back

103   Ev 178 Back

104   Ev 215 Back

105   Q 289 Back

106   Q 140 Back

107   Q 137 Back

108   Ev 71 Back

109   Ev 173 Back

110   Medical Research Council Task Force on NIMR, The Future of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, 22 July 2004., Chapter 6 Back

111 Back

112   Ev 52 Back

113   Ev 146 Back

114   Ev 52 Back

115   Ev 173 Back

116   Ev 90 Back

117 Back

118   Q 345 Back

119   Ev 221 Back

120   Ev 172 Back

121   Medical Research Council Task Force on NIMR, The Future of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, 22 July 2004.  Back

122   Ev 70 Back

123   Ev 177 Back

124   Q 93 Back

125   Q 158 Back

126 Back

127   See paras 82-87 below. Back

128   Q Davies/Tomlinson  Back

129   Ev 217 Back

130   Q 292 Back

131 Back

132 Back

133   Conclusions of the Fifth Task Force meeting on 21 June,  Back

134   As above Back

135   Ev 228, email61, Back

136   Ev 229, email 62,  Back

137   Ev 232, email 76,  Back

138 Back

139   Q 103 Back

140   Q 96 Back

141   Ev 175 Back

142   Q 150 Back

143   Ev 136 Back

144 Back

145   Ev 215 Back

146   Ev 217 Back

147   Ev 217 Back

148   Q 148 Back

149 Back

150   Q 149 Back

151 Back

152   The other members were Sir Paul Nurse and Professor Denton; email103 (not printed) Back

153 Back

154 Back

155 Back

156   The email was actually sent at 12.05pm. Back

157 Back

158   Ev 215 Back

159   Ev 176 Back

160   Ev 219 Back

161   Email 282 (not printed) Back

162   Q 90 Back

163   Ev 185 Back

164   See paragraph 88. Back

165   Task Force report, Executive summary, para 14 Back

166   Ev 211 Back

167   Ev 212 Back

168   Ev 230, email 74 Back

169   Not printed Back

170   Ev 176 Back

171  Ev 232, email146,  Back

172  Ev 237, email192,  Back

173   Ev 216 Back

174   See para 75 above. Back

175   Q 287 Back

176   Q 301 [Tomlinson] Back

177   Q 309 Back

178   Q 292 Back

179   Q 312 [Tomlinson] Back

180   Q 312 [Davies] Back

181   Q 170 Back

182   Ev 218 Back

183   Q 273 Back

184   Q 325 Back

185   Q 313 [Davies] Back

186   Q 304 Back

187   Q 300 Back

188   Q 300 Back

189   Q 86 Back

190   Q 90; Ev 190 Back

191   Ev 192 Back

192   Ev 193 Back

193   Q 90 Back

194   Q 90 Back

195   Ev 193 Back

196   See paras 112-118 for further discussion of this issue. Back

197   Ev 194 Back

198   Ev 178 Back

199   See para 67 above. Back

200   Ev 198 Back

201   Q 90 Back

202   Ev 177 Back

203   Ev 177 Back

204   Ev 176; not printed Back

205   Ev 202 Back

206   Memorandum from Professor Blakemore; not printed Back

207   Ev 199 Back

208   Ev 181 Back

209   Ev 178 Back

210   Ev 175 Back

211   Ev 175 Back

212   Ev 203 Back

213   Ev 175 Back

214   Ev 216 Back

215   Q 279 Back

216   Ev 208 Back

217   Q 83 Back

218   Ev 236, email165 Back

219   Ev 236, email167  Back

220   Ev 237, email168 Back

221   Q 277 Back

222   Q 279 Back

223   Qs 273-4; Ev 65 Back

224   Ev 229, email 64 Back

225   Ev 230, email 64b Back

226   Q 324 Back

227   Qs 74-5 Back

228   Q 127 Back

229   Q 135 Back

230   Q 131 Back

231   Q133 Back

232   Ev 170 Back

233   Q 97 Back

234   Ev 61 Back

235   Ev 80 Back

236   Ev 80 Back

237   Ev 78 Back

238   Ev 78 Back

239   Ev 169 Back

240   See paras 93-4 above; Q 90 Back

241   Not printed Back

242   Ev 145 Back

243   Q 138 Back

244   Ev 220 Back

245   Ev 185 Back

246   Ev 185 Back

247   Ev 185 Back

248   Ev 169 Back

249   Q 138 Back

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