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05 March 2024

Minister forced into climb down over academic comments on Gaza

4 mins

Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, has today tweeted a full retraction of her false allegations about Professor Kate Sang and agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to her.

In October 2023, Michelle Donelan wrote to the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) suggesting that newly appointed members of an EDI board, Professor Kate Sang and Dr Kamna Patel, had shared extremist material or, in the case of Professor Sang, had expressed support or sympathy for Hamas in the aftermath of the Gaza attack. She also claimed they had breached the Nolan principles and suggested they should be removed from the Board. Unusually, the Minister posted this letter to her personal X account to very large numbers of people. 

In fact, the allegations were false. Professor Sang is not a Hamas supporter or sympathiser. She had tweeted a link to a Guardian article which described the wider aftermath in the UK of the Hamas attack and simply commented ‘this is disturbing’. Dr Patel had not shared extremist material and there had been no breach of the Nolan principles as Ms Donelan had suggested.

As a result of the Minister’s letter, Professor Sang and Dr Patel were investigated by UKRI over a period of many months for allegations of extremism, support for a proscribed organisation and breaches of the Nolan principles in public life. 

UKRI’s investigation has now found that there was no evidence to support the allegations, the tweet was taken out of context, Dr Patel and Professor Sang had not expressed extremist views or supported a proscribed organisation and that there had been no breach of the terms of their appointment to the EDI board and no breach of the Nolan principles.

Unfortunately, the basis for Michelle Donelan’s false allegations was a seriously misleading press release from the lobby group Policy Exchange which did not include the link to the Guardian article tweeted by Professor Sang, just the headline which referred to a crackdown on Hamas support by Suella Braverman. 

Tamsin Allen who represented Professor Sang in her libel complaint said:

Michelle Donelan has now withdrawn her false allegations and agreed to pay damages and costs to Professor Sang. It is extraordinary that a Minister should be guided by a lobby group into making serious false allegations about private citizens without doing the first piece of due diligence.

Shirin Marker who represented Professor Sang and Dr Patel in the UKRI investigation said:

Whilst our clients welcome the resolution of this matter, UKRI’s lengthy investigation process was marked by unfairness and caused a great deal of unnecessary reputational damage and personal distress to them. Our clients hope that lessons can be learnt going forward to avoid others being mistreated in the same way.

Professor Sang said:

I am delighted that this matter has now concluded, but very disturbed by the way in which Michelle Donelan and UKRI behaved. Had they asked me at the start, I would have explained the true position. Instead, Michelle Donelan made a cheap political point at my expense and caused serious damage to my reputation. I propose to donate part of the damages she has paid to a charity.

Dr Patel said:

There was never any need for UKRI to investigate as it should have been obvious from the start that we had not breached the Nolan principles or expressed extremist views. Worryingly, it appears UKRI were steered by who made the claim and not its substance. It has been a distressing series of events and I am glad that it has concluded with no finding against us.

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