Branson contacted to fund fertility work

January 28, 2000

In vitro fertilisation pioneer Simon Fishel told the High Court this week that as part of a push to attract high-profile financial support to Nottingham University, he asked Richard Branson to back a Virgin Institute of Fertility.

Dr Fishel, who is being sued for Pounds 400,000 for allegedly carrying out private work in university time, told the court: "It was a dream of mine to establish what I hoped would be an unrivalled centre of human fertility."

Until July 1997, Dr Fishel was a reader in embryology and scientific director of the Nottingham University Research and Treatment Unit in Reproduction (Nurture). He is accused of indulging in "profit-making activities" without authority while employed full-time by the university.

Dr Fishel told the court that Edwin Symonds, the former dean of Nottingham University's medicine faculty, encouraged him.

"He said ... you are the name, you are the figurehead ... get out and raise funds for the institute on the basis that any one who gives a big enough donation will have their names attached."

Dr Fishel said he wrote to Richard Branson to enlist his backing but without success.

Dr Fishel agreed that in 1996 he was paid Pounds 138,000 by the university but said: "It was quite clear from my contract that unless Nurture was profitable, I could be dismissed with three months' notice, which was significantly different to an academic salary."

He said he had to bring in Pounds 600,000 in funding before his bonus "kicked in".

Dr Fishel admitted that he signed a contract in August 1993, when he was appointed a reader. It said he could not do private consultancy work without permission. He denies all the allegations. He claims his work abroad benefited the university.

The hearing continues.

KATE SUTHERLAND

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