Michelle Donelan apologises after false Hamas claims cost taxpayer £15,000

12 March 2024, 13:48 | Updated: 12 March 2024, 13:54

The Science Secretary agreed to pay an academic £15,000 in taxpayer money
The Science Secretary agreed to pay an academic £15,000 in taxpayer money. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Michelle Donelan has apologised for publicly posting a letter on social media falsely suggesting an academic had expressed sympathy for Hamas.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The Science Secretary later retracted her comments about Professor Kate Sang and agreed to pay her £15,000 in taxpayer money.

She accepted there was "no evidence" the academic, who had recently been appointed to the UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI) advisory group on equality, diversity and inclusion, was a Hamas supporter.

Speaking at the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday, Ms Donelan said she should have privately written to UKRI raising her alleged concerns, instead of posting the letter on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Michelle Donelan apologises for handling of Hamas damages claim

She also said that civil servants were aware that she was going to publish her letter on the platform.

Read more: Science minister Michelle Donelan pays damages to academic after suggesting she had sympathy for Hamas

Ms Donelan told the committee: "While I always err on the side of transparency, I am now clear that in this case, I could have sent the letter in confidence to the UKRI in order for them to undertake the investigations privately.

"And I do apologise for not having done so, and for any distraction that this decision has caused from this Government's positive agenda."

She added: "I highlighted it on the platform that the original tweet was done on - Twitter, or X - and that was something I have apologised for.

"With hindsight, I could have just sent it privately and if I had the ability to do it again, I would certainly just send it privately.

"So I've said that publicly as well as retracting the original comments, which I do think is important.

"In terms of advice, of course, with long-time precedent, we don't get into the actual nature of the advice.

"But what I can tell you here today, is that both policy and legal were not only cited but also cleared the approach taken."

The letter written by Ms Donelan expressed "disgust and outrage" that Prof Sang and another academic, Dr Kamna Patel, had "shared extremist views" and, in Prof Sang's case, expressed sympathy for the terrorist group after the October 7 attacks in Israel.

This followed a tweet by Prof Sang saying: "This is disturbing. Suella Braverman urges police to crack down on Hamas support in UK" with a link to an article by the Guardian describing the response to the Hamas attacks in the UK.

Ms Donelan has since accepted that Prof Sang's comments referred to the story as a whole, and not just the headline.