A TORY Cabinet Secretary has been forced to pay damages to an academic at a Scottish university after making “false allegations” about her – with the taxpayer footing the bill.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan had accused Professor Kate Sang, of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, of having extremist views on Hamas and called for her to be fired from a equality, diversity and inclusion panel.

In October, in a letter sent to chief executive of UK Research and Innovation Ottoline Leyser, the Tory MP claimed both Sang and Dr Kamna Patel, of University College London, had expressed extremist views on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

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Donelan’s letters to Leyser expressed “disgust and outrage at Research England’s appointment of individuals to an advisory group on equality, diversity and inclusion” who “have been sharing extremist views on social media”.

Now, Donelan has been forced to retract her comments and pay damages.

A UKRI investigation found “no evidence … of support for a proscribed terrorist organisation or the sharing of extremist material and no grounds to remove any individual members” from the diversity panel.

It also found “no evidence of a breach” of the panel’s terms of reference and “no failure to uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life (The Nolan Principles)”.

The National: MP Michelle Donelan

Donelan (above) has retracted her past comments, writing on social media: “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.”

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “This investigation completely exonerates our members and confirms Michelle Donelan’s unprecedented, politicised intervention was an outrageous attack on academic freedom.”

Tamsin Allen, who represented Sang in her legal action, said: “Michelle Donelan has now withdrawn her false allegations and agreed to pay damages and costs to Professor Sang.”

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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.”

The UK Government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) said it had paid the legal costs and damages, adding: “This was subject to all the usual cross-government processes and aims to reduce the overall costs to the taxpayer that could result from protracted legal action.”

Reports say Downing Street has expressed support for Donelan so she is likely to remain in post.

UKRI is a public body that directs research and innovation funding.

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.”

Leyser said: “Our intention, as soon as these concerns were raised by the Secretary of State, was to adopt a well-governed process to support evidenced, principled decisions.

“I am grateful for the thorough work of all those involved in this investigation. I hope this will bring clear resolution in a way that best supports all of those who serve on our advisory groups, and research and innovation in the UK.”

DSIT said that a total sum of £15,000 was shelled out at the taxpayers' expense. 

A DSIT spokesperson said: “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 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.”