By Ian Dunt
Alan Johnson is facing serious accusations of misleading MPs when he explained why he had sacked the government's chief advisor on drugs, Professor David Nutt.
He received a letter from Dr Evan Harris, Lib Dem science spokesman, over the weekend, saying he had been made aware of an article and presentation on Prof Nutt's views on drug classification and harm before they occurred.
When the home secretary told MPs about the sacking in the Commons last week, he stressed he was unaware of the paper, published in January, and a speech Prof Nutt then made in King's College London.
He rebutted Dr Harris' accusations in a letter yesterday.
"I did not mislead the House in my statement on 2 November," he wrote.
Mr Johnson insisted he was not aware of the publication of the article until February, and that it had not been approved by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) secretariat or the Home Office's chief scientific advisor, Professor Paul Wiles.
On the King's College presentation, Mr Johnson said the government had been made aware of it, but not the subsequent presentation on October 29th, or the Guardian article Prof Nutt wrote to go with it.
Dr Harris accused the home secretary of confusing the roles of full-time advisor within the civil service and Prof Nutt's "unpaid, part-time" advisory role.
Mr Johnson replied: "In your letter you accuse me of confusing roles.
"I am in no way confused about the role Professor Nutt held. He was chair of my advisory committee and chose to campaign against decisions my predecessor had taken, not just through a lecture and a paper but through a series of media appearances, an article and a press release."
It is not the only front in Mr Johnson's fight to justify the sacking, which could still trigger a slew of resignations from the ACMD, as advisors to the government consider whether the position compromises their research.
The government's own science minister is understood to have opposed the sacking while Phil Willis, chair of the science and technology committee, has demanded Mr Johnson provide proof Prof Nutt's comments were against the ACMD code of practice.
"Lord Drayson, the science minister, has now publicly criticised the home secretary for not consulting him over the matter and signalled that the government would endorse a code of practice for ministers under which Professor Nutt would still be in his position," Dr Harris said over the weekend.
Prof Nutt said alcohol and horse riding provided greater level of threat than ecstasy, in his presentations, and suggested the government was wrong to reclassify cannabis as class B.