Drugs expert under fire

January 2, 1998

CONTROVERSIAL drugs researcher Martin Plant, whose Pounds 120,000 grant has been suspended by the Scottish Office, narrowly avoided an Edinburgh University disciplinary hearing because his contract was about to expire.

Dr Plant, who until two months ago headed Edinburgh's alcohol and health research group, refused to comment on allegations of harassment by a former colleague, saying they "emanated from a malicious source" and that the university would confirm his "slate is clean".

An Edinburgh University spokeswoman said: "We would only be able to comment if formal disciplinary procedures had taken place, and they have not." But The THES has obtained a letter from Edinburgh's principal, Sir Stewart Sutherland, to the complainer, saying an investigation had found that there was "clearly a case" against Dr Plant to be answered. But according to legal advice, internal disciplinary procedures could not be pursued against someone who was no longer a member of staff, and Dr Plant's contract was about to expire.

"I have concluded that the only practical way forward is to let the matter rest where it stands, with the disciplinary procedure halted, unresolved," Sir Stewart's letter says. "I recognise that, from all perspectives, this is less than an ideal outcome."

Douglas Brodie, secretary of Edinburgh's Association of University Teachers, said: "There is a prima facie case for disciplinary proceedings against Martin Plant regarding harassment. I very much appreciate the difficulties the university was under, but it is unfortunate when staff, particularly senior staff, are not subject to the full rigours of the code of conduct."

Dr Plant has been at Edinburgh for some 20 years, where he was a professorial fellow. Although the courtesy title of "professor" lapsed on his departure, he still uses it. In November, Edinburgh's Queen Margaret College issued a press release on a European drugs survey being presented by Dr Plant, which said "Professor Plant" was now with the college's alcohol and health research centre. But a spokeswoman later said it had been decided "after full consideration" that Dr Plant's group would not join the college. "The association was overstated, and in the event, premature," she said. She would not comment on why the link had not gone ahead.

The Scottish Office has asked Edinburgh to return around Pounds 50,000 already awarded for its Pounds 120,000 three-year project on home detoxification, led by Dr Plant, saying it has concerns about the scientific and financial management of the project.

Dr Plant said there was a dispute relating to technical issues on improvements on the study design. The Scottish Office had also complained that a number of items should have been billed to other projects.

"That is now fixed," he said.

A university spokeswoman said Edinburgh was still awaiting some clarification from the Scottish Office, but was carrying out an investigation. Dr Plant had left Edinburgh because his research group's social sciences focus did not fit with the department of psychiatry's focus on the biological basis of psychiatric conditions, she said.

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