'Shocked and hurt': Colleague of professor targeted by UK minister speaks out

'To get attacked, quite personally, not just by someone junior but by a minister was quite hurtful,' Professor Dibyesh Anand told ITV News.

A colleague of the professor who minister Michelle Donelan falsely accused of being a Hamas sympathiser says he felt attacked by the MP.

The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology falsely accused Professor Kate Sang of sharing “extremist views”, eventually leading to a £15,000 bill for damages – which taxpayers had to foot.

Professor Dibyesh Anand was included, alongside Prof Sang, in a piece by think tank Policy Exchange, which put out what lawyers have called a “seriously misleading press release” about the academics’ comments.

This piece is believed to have led to Donelan saying Prof Sang was a Hamas sympathiser.

He told ITV News of his anger when he saw Donelan speaking on the news about the UKRI.

“I was shocked and angry the way she was talking about it,” Prof Anand said. “To get attacked, quite personally, not just by someone junior but by a minister was quite hurtful.”

Prof Anand added the “attack was ideological” and done without “serious questioning” of his and his colleague’s work.

“It was disappointing to see the way the minister was willing to put the reputation of the UKRI at risk without care for any one of us, by publicly attacking us,” he said.

He added that as a taxpayer himself, he was very upset that taxpayers had to foot the bill for Donelan’s comments.

Prof Anand and Prof Sang are part of an advisory group on equality, diversity and inclusion at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – a public body which manages the government’s research funding.

Prof Anand clarified that he spoke to ITV News as an individual, not as a representative for the group as a whole.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stood by Donelan, insisting it was a “longstanding convention that the government funds legal disputes when it relates to ministers doing their work.”

Sunak said he had been “focused on the Budget”, but stuck by the science minister despite Donelan facing calls to resign and to pay the cost of the settling the libel action herself.

Donelan tweeted a letter she had written to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) last October, in which she expressed “disgust and outrage” that Prof Sang and another academic, Dr Kamna Patel, had “shared extremist views”.

The letter followed a tweet by Prof Sang saying “this is disturbing”, and containing a link to a Guardian article describing the response to the Hamas attacks in the UK.

As a result of Donelan’s letter, both Prof Sang and Dr Patel were subject to a probe by UKRI, which uncovered no evidence that they had expressed extremist views or support for Hamas, or breached the terms of their appointments.

The prime minister’s spokesperson also confirmed on Thursday that Donelan received government legal advice before publishing the false claims, but wouldn’t say whether she had followed that advice or not.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was “totally insulting” that taxpayers were having to foot the bill, and that if he was in power he would “never allow that sort of thing to happen”.

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