Taxpayers Forced To Pay Out £15,000 After Tory Minister Accused Academic Of Supporting Hamas

Michelle Donelan was forced to withdraw the allegation after a libel case.
Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan
Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan
Leon Neal via Getty Images

The government has spent £15,000 of taxpayers’ money to cover the damages incurred by a cabinet minister’s inaccurate claim against a professor.

The science secretary, Michelle Donelan, wrongly accused Professor Kate Sang of expressing sympathy for the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, on X (formerly Twitter).

The professor then took out a libel action against the cabinet minister, which was settled with Donelan agreeing to pay damages - with the public purse picking up the bill.

It has now emerged that the payment was £15,000, which the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said was paid “without admitting any liability”.

“There is an established precedent under multiple administrations that ministers are provided with legal support and representation where matters relate to their conduct and responsibilities as a minister, as was the case here,” the department said in a statement.

“The Secretary of State received the appropriate advice from relevant officials at all times.

“A sum of £15,000 was paid without admitting any liability. This approach is intended to reduce the overall costs to the taxpayer that could result from protracted legal action, no matter what the result would have been.”

The government is yet to reveal the full legal costs of the incident, and Donelan is now facing calls to resign from the University and College Union.

The minister misinterpreted a social media post where Professor Sang posted a link to a Guardian article about the aftermath in the UK after Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 last year.

At the time, Donelan also wrote to the UK Research and Innovation government agency (UKRI) suggesting Professor Sang and a second academic Dr Kamna Patel had shared extremist material.

Both faced a lengthy investigation by the UKRI.

Donelan retracted her accusations in a post on X on Tuesday afternoon this week.

She said: “I have never thought or claimed that Professor Sang, or any member of the Board, committed a criminal offence.

“I fully accept that she is not an extremist, a supporter of Hamas or any other proscribed organisation and I note that an independent investigation has concluded that there is no evidence that she is. I have deleted my original post to my X account.”

Professor Sang’s legal representative confirmed this week that Donelan has now withdrawn her false allegations and agreed to pay damages and costs to the academic.

The academic herself said the cabinet minister “made a cheap political point at my expense and caused serious damage to my reputation”, adding: “I propose to donate part of the damages she has paid to a charity.”

The Liberal Democrats also suggested Donelan’s salary – £159,38 year, including her £86,584 MP pay – should be docked.

The party said that amount of money could have funded 5,928 free school meals or 357 GP appointments.

Shadow science secretary Peter Kyle said: “It is outrageous that £15,000 of taxpayers money has been spent on the Science Secretary calling a scientist a terrorist sympathiser on social media, without any evidence at all.

“Michelle Donelan should be embarrassed, she should apologise, and she should repay the full amount back to the taxpayer. Her conduct falls so far below that expected of a minister.

“It is emblematic of this Tory government’s arrogance and recklessness that a Minister is forcing the taxpayer to pick up the legal bill for hurling abuse at a scientist online.”

Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said this incident was “nothing short of a scandal”.

She said: “If Michelle Donelan had a shred of integrity left, she would pay for this bill out of her own pocket instead of asking taxpayers to pick up the tab. If she refuses to do so, Rishi Sunak should dock her pay.

“This news will come as a kick in the teeth to people who are seeing their finances clobbered by the cost of living crisis while local health services are on their knees.

“This is yet another scandal that proves it’s time to kick this sleaze-ridden Conservative Government out of office for good.”


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