Scientific advisors lash out at the government

By Ian Dunt

One of the government’s scientific advisors who quit last night in protest at the sacking of Professor David Nutt has lashed out at the government.

Chemist Dr Simon Campbell, former president of the Royal Society of Chemistry and part of the research team which discovered Viagra, walked out of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) meeting yesterday after an all day private session.

He told the Tpday programme this morning the Home Office revealed his decision as he was travelling home from the meeting.

“Alan Johnson talked about building a level of trust between the council and the Home Office, and my resignation was apparently announced by the Home Office while I was on the train home from London,” he said.

“I sent a formal letter to the Home Secretary late last night but I’m dismayed that my resignation was on the BBC News as soon as I got home.

“So I’m very concerned about what the home secretary believes is a level of trust.”

Dr Campbell spoke angrily about the decision to sack Prof Nutt and the manner in which the decision was taken.

“I think that was a clash of personalities. I don’t agree with the manner in which he was dismissed. I think such an abrupt dismissal was an unnecessary humiliation for such a respected scientist,” he said.

The comments echoed those made by Liberal democrat science spokesman Dr Evan Harris, who accused home secretary Alan Johnson of attacking Prof Nutt’s reputation.

“The points you made are of such seriousness to the professional and public standing of Professor David Nutt that you should now correct yourself in the chamber and apologise for misleading the House,” Dr Harris wrote to the home secretary over the weekend.

Psychologist John Marsden and scientific consultant Ian Ragan also stepped down last night, following Marion Walker and Les King, who quit in the wake of the sacking.

Prof Nutt is due to speak to the media today at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London

Speaking to the home affairs committee yesterday, Mr Johnson said he intended to mend bridges with the scientific community after the debacle.

“There is a duty, I think, to accept that politicians make the final decision,” he told MPs.

“At my meeting, we talked constructively about the future, about what we can do to reassure the science community that their decisions are important to us and they are given due weight.

“At the end of the day, we have to make the decision but nevertheless we think there are things we can do to improve the way we work with the committee.”

Dr Harris said the resignation highlighted Mr Johnson’s ineptitude.

“The latest resignations represent a deepening in the crisis of confidence of scientists in the government – in particular, in the home secretary,” he said last night.

“By clumsily and unfairly sacking David Nutt, Alan Johnson has been rewarded with five resignations in protest. That takes a certain kind of ineptitude.”