MAN IN THE EYE—PROFESSOR ROY ANDERSON

IF Tony Blair has an ounce of gratitude, he will certainly wish to reward Professor Roy Anderson of Imperial College, London.

It was Prof Anderson who created the computer model used by MAFF which predicted that the number of foot-and-mouth cases would fall to zero on 7 June — thus allowing the PM to call an election for that very day and to boast that his slaughter policy has been triumphantly vincticated.

To achieve this desirable result, of course, a certain amount of statistical jiggery-pokesy was necessary. Dr Paul Kitching of the Pirbright Animal Institute told Channel 4 News that the new projections were almost worthless; he also pointed out how conveniently they had been adjusted when the favoured election date was moved from May to June. But the government had a perfect defence to the charge of fiddling the figures: its methods had been devised by the independent expert Professor Anderson, a man of unimpeachable reputation. It was a point stressed by Blair’s chief scientific adviser, Professor David King, at a press conference on 3 May.

Had Fleet Street’s hacks bothered to make a few inquiries, they might have learned some interesting facts about this paragon. Before taking up his post at Imperial College a year ago, Roy Anderson was Linacre Professor of Zoology at Oxford University.

His defection was described by the Guardian at the time as a tremendous coup for London University and a ‘severe blow" to Oxford. In truth, however, be had little choice but to leave the dreaming spires.

The trouble began in January last year, when Anderson was suspended on full pay while the university authorities investigated complaints filed by his colleague Dr Sunetra Gupta - whom he had accused, publicly and falsely, of gaining her post at Oxford by sleeping with another professor in the zoology department. Dr Karen Day, a member of the panel which appointed Dr Gupta, also complained of his "offensive and intimidatory" behaviour.

Anderson was reinstated two months later after agreeing to apologise in writing to those concerned.

This failed to satisfy Dr Gupta, who continued to press for a public retraction. A meeting attended by 26 readers, lecturers and professors in the zoology department passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in Professor Anderson.

Meanwhile, an inquiry by the university into the research centre in the zoology department criticised his "autocratic" management style: conditions at the centre were "intolerable" and divisions ran "very deep". And a separate financial audit found that he hadn’t disclosed to either the university or to the Wellcome Trust, which largely financed the research Centre, that he was a director and shareholder of International Biomedical and Health Sciences Consortium, a private consultancy firm which had close financial links with the centre.

"There was a degree of naivety on his part," a Wellcome spokesman said. "He should have been aware of the procedures to be followed. The research centre was also receiving commercial grants which were not declared, in breach of the trust’s regulations."

On 9 May 2000, Anderson resigned his Oxford post and announced that he was taking up a chair at Imperial College. A month later, he finally gave Dr Gupta the formal apology she wanted, admitting that there had been "no foundation in truth whatsoever" in his comments. He paid her legal costs plus damages of úl,000, which she donated to Save the Children. As she told the Daily Telegraph last June: "I felt nobody should be allowed to get away with this and remain in a position where they are making judgements about people’s lives... I felt there was no other choice, no other way to protect myself or other people."

Less than a year later Prof Anderson is now installed in Imperial splendour in London, and "making judgements" which enable the government to maintain that its foot-and-mouth policy has been an unqualified success. Can a knighthood be far behind?