Whistleblowers: Lab probe scientist to take up Irish post

April 16, 2004

A leading scientist who resigned from Imperial College London amid concerns about his laboratory's use of a biological toxin has been awarded a €4 million (£2.6 million) research grant designed to enable Irish universities to headhunt top researchers.

Oliver Dolly, a former professor of molecular neurobiology at Imperial, had been suspended for a year while the college investigated whether the Health and Safety Executive had been properly notified of his work with botulinum toxin.

The college launched its investigation after alerted by a whistleblower.

Its outcome has never been made public, but the HSE this week confirmed that it had carried out its own probe, concluding that Professor Dolly's laboratory had broken health and safety rules.

"Imperial accepted there was a breach from the outset and agreed to take action to improve the notification and risk assessment process," said the HSE. "But no enforcement action was taken."

Professor Dolly resigned last May after Imperial's internal investigation.

In June, he was appointed to a post in neurotherapeutics research at Dublin City University. Five months later, he was awarded a grant from Science Foundation Ireland under a publicly funded scheme to attract outstanding overseas researchers.

SFI this week denied that there was any inconsistency in awarding a grant to someone who had already accepted a post at an Irish institution.

An SFI spokesman told The Times Higher : "The research institution at which the researcher will be located makes the hiring decision.

"Professor Dolly was recruited by Dublin City University and his research is funded by SFI under the research professorships programme. The programme is a flexible mechanism to empower third-level and public research institutions in Ireland to attract world-class senior researchers from outside the country. These research leaders are expected to have a track record that is internationally acknowledged. Recipients will typically have been successful in attracting competitive research funding to their programmes over a long period of time."

Dublin City said it had been aware of the investigation at Imperial when it had appointed Professor Dolly.

A spokeswoman for Dublin City said: "Regarding Professor Dolly's appointment, I can confirm that we first spoke to him in late 2002 with a view to encouraging him to come to Dublin. He came to us in June 2003. His appointment followed an agreement that he would seek an SFI research professorship and his application to SFI had already been submitted. The SFI award was approved on November 3 2003."

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