Cabinet minister pays damages over Hamas claimon March 5, 2024 at 10:34 pm

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Science Secretary Michelle Donelan had claimed a university professor sympathised with Hamas.

Michelle Donelan, British Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, departs 10 Downing Street following a Cabinet meetingImage source, Shutterstock

Cabinet minister Michelle Donelan has paid an undisclosed sum and apologised to a professor after falsely suggesting she supported Hamas.

The science secretary admitted she was wrong and has retracted her comments about Professor Kate Sang.

The sum paid to Prof Sang was covered by taxpayers to prevent prolonged legal costs, the BBC has been told.

Prof Sang said Ms Donelan attacked her to make a “cheap political point”.

In a letter published on social media post, Ms Donelan had called on UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to cut ties with Professor Kate Sang for sharing what she claimed were extremist views.

Ms Donelan – who has been Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology since July 2023 – also accused Dr Kamna Patel of University College London of sharing extremist content online.

In the letter, Ms Donelan described her “disgust and outrage” at their recent appointment to the UKRI’s advisory group on equality, diversity and inclusion.

That letter followed a social media post by Prof Sang, describing a Guardian article on the government’s plans to clamp down on pro-Palestine marches as “disturbing”.

Dr Patel had retweeted a post criticising Israeli actions as “genocide and apartheid”.

A months-long investigation by the UKRI into Prof Sang and Dr Patel found no evidence that the advisers had breached either their roles’ terms of reference or the Nolan principles – rules for how public officials should behave.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ms Donelan admitted she was wrong and “misunderstood” the social media posts.

Ms Donelan posted a statement on X saying she had deleted her original post and fully accepted that Prof Sang was “not an extremist, a supporter of Hamas or other proscribed organisation”.

Hamas, or in some cases its armed wing alone, is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, and the UK, among others.

Prof Sang, an academic at Heriot Watt University, 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 described the experience as “distressing”, saying she was “glad” the process had concluded.

She 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.”

A Downing Street source said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had “full confidence” in “excellent minister” Ms Donelan.

Shadow science secretary Peter Kyle said accusing a researcher of sharing extremist material and sympathising with a proscribed group was a “new low in government standards”.

The payment to Prof Sang came from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

The payment was made to reduce the overall costs to the taxpayer that could result from protracted legal action, the BBC understands.

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