The sanctions come in the wake of allegations by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, published in The Sunday Times in April 2013, of “appalling animal suffering on a very large scale” at an animal facility at Imperial’s Hammersmith campus.
In a 71-page report to the Home Office, the charity made 180 allegations of non-compliance with animal welfare legislation.
But, according to a report by the department’s Animals in Science Regulation Unit, published on October 2, “extensive investigations, interviews, inspection visits and meetings with staff during 2013” resulted in all but five of the charges being found to be unsubstantiated.
There were “few instances of animal suffering” and “overall, the…allegations of cruelty at the establishment have not been substantiated”.
But the report – an anonymised version of which has been published online as part of a new Home Office policy to boost transparency on animal research – also concludes that there was a “widespread poor culture of care” at the facility due, broadly, to “failings in management structures”.
Eight people were sanctioned with letters of reprimand and a requirement to complete further training, and Imperial was ordered to implement changes to its management structure, practices and training programmes by February 2014. A formal review of the changes will also be carried out next February.
James Stirling, provost of Imperial College, said: “We are pleased that the investigation recognises the quality of care provided by our staff and the work of our researchers in refining procedures where possible.
“We recognise that there have been problems with the culture and management around our animal research. We are sorry for these shortcomings and we have addressed them through considerable efforts and investment in our animal research infrastructure, to improve our culture of care and to ensure that we meet the very highest standards in our animal research.”
In July, Imperial’s Establishment Licence Holder, college secretary and registrar John Neilson, stepped down from the role following a “discussion” between the institution and Home Office minister Norman Baker. Establishment Licence Holders have ultimate responsibility for compliance with animal welfare legislation.
The move followed the publication of a report on the BUAV allegations by the government’s advisory Animals in Science Committee, which concluded that Imperial broke the rules “on an unacceptable scale”, creating an “unacceptable risk” of “appreciable” harm to animals.
That report drew on the then unpublished Home Office report, as well as an independent report commissioned by Imperial soon after the allegations were made, which was published in December 2013 and which the college accepted in full.
Michelle Thew, chief executive of the BUAV, dismissed the Home Office report as “wholly inadequate”.
“It is not independent and doesn’t address any of the specific allegations. Yet despite that, the report identifies very serious defects, which, astonishingly, are not addressed by Imperial College’s press statement. What does it take for Imperial to recognise that a ‘widespread poor culture of care’ needs to be addressed?”
Wendy Jarrett, chief executive of Understanding Animal Research, said: “It is right and proper that anyone using animals in research should be held up to strict scrutiny, which is why we support openness and transparency, but people who are quick to denounce should be as quick to update their statements once the truth has come to light.
“Future ‘exposés’ should be viewed in the same light, with the understanding that the track record over the last 10 years has been that the allegations are wide of the mark and any judgements should await proper scrutiny.”