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Call for Michelle Donelan to resign after falsely accusing academic of having sympathy for Hamas

One of the members of an expert group falsely accused of sharing "extremist views" online by Science Secretary Michelle Donelan has called on her to resign.

The cabinet minister publicly retracted her remarks on Tuesday after two members of Research England's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Advisory Group began libel proceedings against her.

"This wasn't a misunderstanding," said Dibyesh Anand, interim deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Westminster, a member of the expert group who was not individually named by the minister.

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Ms Donelan's intervention was "irresponsible at best, but a malicious and vindictive attack on individuals connected with EDI at worse," he said.

Prof Anand was at a human rights conference in Geneva last October when he first learned of a press release produced by the right-leaning thinktank Policy Exchange which identified him and other members of the EDI advisory group as having "radical anti-Israeli views."

He was shocked, he said, by what he saw as deliberate misinterpretation in the press release. At the time he was also being accused of being a "Zionist" by other academics on X.

It is understood that it was the Policy Exchange press release that prompted the intervention by the secretary of state at the department for science, innovation and technology (DSIT).

She wrote to the chair of the UKRI, the government-backed body that coordinates research funding in the UK to express her "disgust and outrage" and called for an immediate investigation into the group. She also posted the letter on social media.

The investigation by UKRI eventually exonerated all the members of the panel.

It was at last year's Conservative Party conference that Ms Donelan embarked on her war against "creeping wokeism" in scientific research.

But her actions have caused genuine harm, undermining trust between the government and researchers, according to academics.

The actions of the UKRI, which initially failed to defend its staff, also led to a number of prominent resignations.

Matters have only got worse for Ms Donelan when it emerged her legal fees would be paid "without admitting liability," not by her, but by taxpayers.

This has led to an inevitable pile-on by her political opponents - and left those she attacked reeling too.

"I'm helping to pay the damages for an attack on my own colleagues," said Prof Anand.

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A spokesperson for the DSIT said this week: "There is an established precedent under multiple administrations that ministers are provided with legal support and representation where matters relate to their conduct and responsibilities as a minister, as was the case here.

"The secretary of state received the appropriate advice from relevant officials at all times.

"A sum of £15,000 was paid without admitting any liability. This approach is intended to reduce the overall costs to the taxpayer that could result from protracted legal action, no matter what the result would have been."

The department had no further comment when approached by Sky News on Thursday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has defended keeping Ms Donelan in her post, saying he was "focused on the budget" rather than her legal case.