'Hounding' could lead to another David Kelly case

February 10, 2006

An academic whose work was rubbished by the Government has warned ministers they risk another David Kelly suicide if they persist in "hounding" critics at universities.

Simon Davies, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, told The Times Higher he had been vilified for a report he co-wrote that questions the Home Office's plans for ID cards.

Sir Howard Davies, director of the LSE and no relation to Mr Davies, was so incensed by the treatment of one of his fellows that he wrote a letter of complaint to Tony Blair.

Mr Davies, an information systems lecturer, was distraught at the way he was treated and was unable to continue his part-time consultancy work. This led to a drop in income that forced him to move from a two-bedroom house to a bedsit, which meant he had to give up his dog.

He said that if ministers continued to treat academics in this way it could lead to a repeat of the circumstances that ended in the death of government scientist Dr Kelly.

Mr Davies said: "There has been a relentless campaign against me and the authors of this report. I have been hounded.

"I could imagine that an academic who is subjected to attacks of this kind could do something stupid. This shows that the Government has made it clear that if any academic challenges Government policy, it will take off its gloves."

Ministers claimed on radio and in Home Office briefings that since Mr Davies was director of a civil liberties group, the report The Identity Project on ID cards was inaccurate and politically biased.

They also argued that Mr Davies was the sole author.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Howard writes: "I would question the assumption that an interest in civil liberty necessarily means that one is biased when producing an estimate of costs. The research and the resulting reports were attempts, in good faith, to produce realistic and independent assessments of the costs of the Government's proposals. I would hope the Government could deal with it on that basis"

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: "While The Identity Project report lists many contributors, Simon Davies is the project mentor in association with a colleague at Privacy International. Neither declared their membership of Privacy International in the publication of the original report. Privacy International cannot be considered to be an unbiased source of information."

Dr Kelly, a weapons expert, was found dead after disappearing from his house in July 2003, two days after he was questioned by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

Next week, Simon Davies argues that it is time for academics to stand up to government intimidation

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