Professor Sir Roy Anderson is a Government advisor who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and was brought in to ‘provide cross-government scientific advice regarding the outbreak of Swine Flu’. He was one of the first UK experts to announce the outbreak of the Swine Flu pandemic.
Foot and mouth disease
In 2001 the UK government put Anderson in charge of charting the epidemiological progress of the foot and mouth disease outbreak. Anderson worked on the task from his office at Imperial College London. Others in his team were Dr Neil Ferguson and Dr Christl Donnelly.
In particular, Anderson pushed the strategy of the contiguous cull, which led to the slaughter and burning of thousands of healthy animals on massive pyres. This strategy came under coruscating criticism from many quarters. In May 2001, Alex Donaldson, head of the Institute for Animal Health's Laboratory at Pirbright in Surrey, said the policy of culling every animal on neighbouring or contiguous premises to an infected farm may have been "excessive". Donaldson, who was on the Cabinet Office committee of government advisers which proposed the culling policy, said the computer models used (by Anderson and his team) to justify the approach were "oversimplified and may have given inaccurate forecasts".
Dr Paul Kitching, deputy-director and head of FMD research at the Institute for Animal Health's Laboratory at Pirbright, said on March 29, 2001 that in his view the computer model was flawed because it was based on inadequate or misleading data. This was because it did not take account of the differences between the way various species reacted to the disease; and because it exaggerated the effect of windborne spread in this particular strain of FMD, as he had confirmed from direct experience in the Far East. According to a Private Eye Special Report:
- Kitching's researches convinced him that the "contiguous cull" was scientifically unjustified, even "a total suspension of common sense". He repeated his criticisms to Prof King's scientific advisory committee in early April, where he was later described by Prof Anderson as having been a "lone voice" - although he was subsequently supported in a paper by Dr Alex Donaldson, Pirbright's director, and three of his staff.
Much of the criticism of the government's approach to the foot and mouth outbreak hinged on its refusal to countenance a vaccination program, an approach adopted by many other countries without problems.
Vote of no confidence
In 2000 Anderson resigned from his post as Linacre professor of zoology at Oxford University and moved to Imperial College London. This occurred after an episode in 1999 when he was suspended on full pay while Oxford university authorities investigated complaints filed by his colleague Dr Sunetra Gupta. A Private Eye special report, "Not the Foot and Mouth Report" (November 2001), takes up the story:
- He [Anderson] had accused her, publicly and falsely, of gaining her post at Oxford by sleeping with another professor in the zoology department. Two months later Anderson was reinstated, after agreeing to apologise in writing to those concerned. This failed to satisfy Dr Gupta, who continued to press for a public retraction. A meeting attended by 26 readers, lecturers and professors in the zoology department passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in Professor Anderson. Meanwhile, an inquiry by the university into the research centre in the zoology department criticised his "autocratic" management style: conditions at the centre were "intolerable" and divisions ran "very deep".
- A separate financial audit then found that Anderson had not disclosed either to the university or the Wellcome Trust, which largely financed his research centre, that he was a director and shareholder of International Biomedical and Health Sciences Consortium, a private consultancy firm which had close financial links with the centre. As director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, he had applied for over £4 million of research grants from Wellcome, while also being a Trustee of the Wellcome Trust itself, which awarded the grants. "There was a degree of naivety on his part", a Wellcome spokesman said. "He should have been aware of the procedures to be followed. The research centre was also receiving commercial grants which were not declared, in breach of the trust's regulations".
- On 9 May 2000, Anderson resigned his Oxford professorship and announced that he was taking up a chair at Imperial College. A month later, he finally gave Dr Gupta the formal apology she wanted, admitting that there had been "no foundation in truth whatsoever" in his comments. He paid her legal costs plus damages of £l,000, which she donated to Save the Children. As she told the Daily Telegraph in June: "I felt nobody should be allowed to get away with this and remain in a position where they are making judgements about people's lives... I felt there was no other choice, no other way to protect myself or other people".
- Anderson also resigned from his seat on the Board of Trustees for the Wellcome Trust. His departure was announced by Wellcome on 11 March 2000 in somewhat opaque terms, stating that, "in view of recent events at the University of Oxford", his resignation "would be in the best interests of both the Trust and himself".
- Rector, Imperial College London, announced June 2007 and taken up June 2008-31 December 2009. Approved by ACOBA who "saw no difficulty provided he did not become personally involved in lobbying Government Ministers or officials for 12 months from his last day of service"
- Non-executive director, GlaxoSmithKline plc, September 2007. Approved by ACOBA "subject to the condition that, for 12 months from his last day of service, he should not advise on or become personally involved in the company’s business with Government"
- BBC News. Swine Flu pandemic 'has started' accessed 28 July 2009.
- Derbyshire, D. Government virus expert paid £116k by swine flu vaccine manufacturers accessed on 28 July 2009.
- Holdingham Advisory Board undated, accessed 24 September 2014
- "Stage Three: The Computer Takes Over, 21-31 March", in "Not the Foot and Mouth Report", Private Eye Special Report, November 2001, accessed 29 July 2009
- Steve Connor, Cull may have been excessive, says foot-and-mouth adviser, The Independent, 17 May 2001, accessed 29 July 2009
- "What They Did Not Want Us To Know: Why was Prof Anderson's computer model so fatally flawed?", "Not the Foot and Mouth Report", Private Eye Special Report, November 2001, accessed 29 July 2009
- "Not the Foot and Mouth Report", Private Eye Special Report, November 2001, accessed 29 July 2009
- "The Man Behind the Computer", in "Not the Foot and Mouth Report", Private Eye Special Report, November 2001, accessed 29 July 2009
- Roy Anderson Imperial, accessed 6 November 2014
- The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments Ninth Report 2006-2008 Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, accessed 6 November 2014