5 CAMPAIGN BY NIMR
119. We have taken a hard look at how MRC has handled
the process of reviewing the future of NIMR. We have also followed
up some concerns we have encountered about the way in which NIMR
staff have responded to, and engaged with, the process.
120. We have already discussed the level of engagement
in the FIS review by NIMR staff and the influence of senior management
there on the Task Force process. We are aware from this inquiry
and from earlier representations made to us that the proposals
surrounding NIMR's future have caused great unrest there and have
occupied a considerable amount of staff energy and time. It is
natural for staff in any organisation facing major change and
potential relocation to be concerned and to question the case
for change. It is reasonable for them to argue strongly against
the proposals if they do not see their merit but not reasonable
to obstruct or interfere with the process itself.
121. We have received a large number of submissions
from scientists around the world, many of whom have experience
of working at Mill Hill, praising the status and work of the institute
and questioning the need for change.
We recognise that NIMR staff may have been proactive in mobilising
former colleagues and collaborators to support their opposition
to the proposals, but the fact that they have responded in such
numbers gives some indication as to both the quality of the science
at Mill Hill and the high regard in which it is held by so many
senior scientists who have worked there.
122. Written evidence we have received from staff
at NIMR suggests a strong engagement with the process. Scientists
there told us that they were not against a move to London in principle,
but had yet to be persuaded by the evidence that it would necessarily
be more advantageous than the further development of the Mill
Hill. They expressed concern that any move might damage a national
asset and adversely affect the career prospects of many young
have already commented upon the professional and objective way
in which the two NIMR members of the Task Force engaged in and
contributed to its work; and noted that they were part of the
consensus established until after the final meeting.
123. Any criticism of the NIMR campaign seems to
centre upon the attitude and actions of senior NIMR staff. Professor
Denton refers to the "apparently extremely negative attitude
of many senior staff within NIMR".
It is clear from the email correspondence and his evidence to
us, some of it in confidence, that Professor Blakemore shares
this view. At one point in the email correspondence, Professor
Blakemore refers to the "dirty campaign" of Sir John
Skehel against the proposed move.
He refers to the "apparently uncompromising stance of Sir
John Skehel and NIMR senior staff" when he initially visited
NIMR and noted the "unwillingness of Sir John and senior
staff to engage with the MRC".
We have certainly seen that Sir John has been resolute in his
defence of what he sees as the best optionthe retention
of the Mill Hill site for NIMR. We have also referred to the inflammatory
language used in postings on the website by NIMR Heads of Division
and the personal accusations made against Professor Blakemore.
These responses were unnecessarily aggressive and served to poison
an already strained relationship with the MRC Chief Executive.
124. We have also found two specific instances that
could be used to support a claim that the NIMR campaign against
a move was in some way obstructive or amounted to an attempt to
interfere with the process. The publication by NIMR of a "Publication
Highlights 2000-04" booklet, a few days before the launch
by the Task Force of the open consultation exercise was viewed
by MRC as a deliberate attempt to influence the consultation exercise
by appearing to link the Task Force's long term review of NIMR
with a review of the quality of science at NIMR. This link was
explicitly made in the foreword to the booklet. 
We do not know how widely the booklet was circulated but in the
evidence we received from around the world there was often an
implicit and mistaken impression that the quality of science at
Mill Hill was in question.
125. It is apparent from the email correspondence
that the publication of the booklet at this time was the subject
of considerable discussion in the Task Force about how best to
asked in evidence about this publication, Sir John told the Committee
that the timing was coincidental and that it was related to the
current quinquennial review.
This was the first such booklet produced for a quinquennial review.
We are surprised that NIMR thought it necessary to produce such
a booklet for a quinquennial review as the information it contained
would anyway have been available to the reviewers. We conclude
that the publication of the booklet setting out the work being
done at NIMR served to align the work of the Task Force with an
assessment of the quality of the science at NIMR.
126. The second example of the lengths to which NIMR
management went in opposing the proposals relates to efforts to
engage the media on the issue of the proposed move. In response
to our questions in oral evidence, Dr Lovell-Badge told us that
he had had an "informal chat" with the Director of the
Science Media Centre, Fiona Fox, whom he knew very well, following
the publication of FIS proposals. He also said that "we never
asked her to help us".
Sir John Skehel told us that he was not involved and "did
not know what was going on".
Professor Blakemore took issue with this account of the meeting,
on the basis of his conversation with Fiona Fox. He reports that
Fiona Fox was expecting an informal tour of the facilities but
was shocked to instead be questioned by 15 senior scientists about
how to organise a media campaign against MRC. She "declined
an invitation" to advise NIMR on its PR campaign and reported
the encounter to the MRC press office.
127. We invited Fiona Fox to submit evidence on the
meeting concerned. She told us that she visited NIMR in response
to a long standing invitation and was taken to a meeting with
10-15 Heads of Department. She said "they [NIMR staff present]
certainly did ask my advice about the media interest in this story
and explained that they had been approached by several media outlets
for interviews and comment. I gave bits and pieces of advicewhich
is what I dobut did say that the SMC was good friends with
the MRC press office and I didn't feel I could in any way become
an adviser on this issue
She said that there "was no attempt to persuade me to play
that role" and advised them to appoint a press officer if
they needed long term advice and did not feel that they could
use the MRC press office.
She subsequently told the MRC press office about the meeting and
heard no more about it. Although Fiona Fox did not specify whether
or not she was asked to be an adviser, she clearly thought it
necessary to tell the MRC press office of the meeting after it
had taken place. It seems to us that this meeting was more than
the "informal chat" that Dr Lovell-Badge sought to imply.
Conclusion on NIMR campaign
128. In conclusion, we can understand the almost
instinctive reaction of employees in resisting a perceived threat
in proposals for change. We have also referred to the adverse
impact on NIMR staff of the way that he initial FIS proposals
were handled. We believe that most staff at NIMR did respond to
the admirable efforts of MRC to engage them in the Task Force
process and in particular have praised the way in which the two
NIMR members of the Task Force contributed. However, we believe
that many senior NIMR staff were more intent upon resistance than
engaging with the process and too willing to characterise conclusions
and intentions of the majority of the Task Force as evidence of
the pursuit of a personal agenda by the Chief Executive. Their
actions stopped only a little short of serious interference with
the process and a deliberate attempt to undermine the position
of the Chief Executive of their own organisation.
250 Ev 59, 61, 65, 75, 122 Back
Ev 92 Back
Ev 170 Back
Ev 236, email 166 Back
Ev 212 Back
See para 85 above. Back
NIMR, Publication Highlights 2000-2004 Back
Emails not printed; see also www.mrc.ac.uk/pdf_nimr_taskforce_26May04.pdf Back
Q 113 Back
Q 110 Back
Q 108 Back
Ev 222 Back
Ev 222 Back