BSE professor 'owed apology'

December 1, 2000

A Leeds academic has called on his university to apologise to Richard Lacey, the emeritus professor who raised the alarm over the possible consequences of BSE on human health.

In a letter, Malcolm Povey, a physicist in the Procter department of food science, said it was time the university's role in the affair was made public. Other academics are believed to back his call.

Lacey's department of clinical microbiology was closed down in 1993 as a result of Leeds NHS Trust - its main funder - forcing a merger with the local Public Health Service Laboratory. His job went with it.

The debacle followed the professor's widely publicised concerns in the early 1990s about the possibility of a human epidemic linked to the consumption of BSE-contaminated beef.

Last week, Povey wrote in the university's newsletter, the Reporter, that he was gratified to see Lacey and his colleague Stephen Dealler praised in a previous issue for their actions.

But, he continued: "Now would be a good time to tell the full story of the university's role in the affair and for an apology to be given to Lacey. If this is not done, then other whistleblowers will note the consequences likely to accrue to themselves and their departments."

The previous issue of the Reporter noted the professor's vindication in Lord Phillips's BSE inquiry report, adding that he had "made extensive and highly effective use of the mass media to highlight his legitimate concerns".

This was not the view a decade earlier, when the paper ran a letter from the academic staff of Leeds' department of animal physiology and nutrition that bitterly attacked Lacey's comments in the press.

It said: "As a result of Professor Lacey's high public profile, and his pronouncements as a professor of the University of Leeds on matters outside his immediate area of expertise, we now find ourselves spending a considerable amount of time defending the university from hostile comments made by people in the scientific community, in agriculture and from among the general public, who associate the university with his views."

Lacey, in his book on the food industry, Poison on a Plate, reflects: "It was, in all the attempts ever made to discredit me, the most savage stab in the back that I ever sustained."

But he also says: "Leeds university offered me great support, despite the fact that some of my I colleagues had earlier joined the ranks of those against me."

After two years of haggling, Lacey took early retirement on an enhanced pension.

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