The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

Many recent safety breaches at UK labs handling lethal viruses

December 6, 2014
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Robert Henderson
The Guardian  have obtained worrying data on the escape of dangerous viruses from supposedly high security laboratories in the UK:
The Guardian
Revealed: 100 safety breaches at UK labs handling potentially deadly diseases
Blunders led to live anthrax being posted from one lab and holes being found in isolation suits at a facility handling Ebola-infected animals
The ‘containment floor’ of the National Institute for Medical Research
Nine UK sites house CL4 labs, including the National Institute for Medical Research, which studies pandemic and avian flu. P
Ian Sample, science editor
Thursday 4 December 2014 12.31 GMT
High-security laboratories that handle the most dangerous viruses and bacteria have reported more than 100 accidents or near-misses to safety regulators in the past five years, official reports reveal.One blunder led to live anthrax being sent from a government facility to unsuspecting labs across the UK, a mistake that exposed other scientists to the disease. Another caused the failure of an air handling system that helped contain foot and mouth disease at a large animal lab.

Wear and tear also caused problems and potentially put researchers in danger. At a top security Ministry of Defence lab, tears were found in isolation suits at a facility handling animals infected with the Ebola virus.

Reports obtained by the Guardian from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that more than 70 incidents at government, university and hospital labs were serious enough to investigate. Many led to enforcement letters, or crown prohibition notices (CPN), ordering labs to shut until improvements were made. Some were so serious they ended in legal action.

Anthrax cells.
Anthrax cells. Photograph: Alamy
Prof Richard Ebright, a US biosafety expert at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who reviewed the reports for the Guardian, said that, taken together, they revealed failures in procedures, infrastructure, training and safety culture at some British labs.


Alarmed at a run of incidents at facilities that work on animal diseases, Ebright asked: “Does British agriculture have a death wish?”

The figures amount to one investigation every three weeks at secure laboratories that are designed to carry out research on pathogens that can cause serious illness and spread into the community. Some of the organisms are lethal and have no vaccines or treatments.

Many of the incidents were one-off, almost inevitable human mistakes, such as spillages of infectious bugs. Others were down to old equipment and safety clothing. The most serious accidents arose from chains of mistakes that happened one after the other, and were often only discovered later.

The reports compiled by the HSE describe at least 116 incidents and 75 completed investigations since April 2010 at laboratories where the most dangerous organisms are handled. Other investigations are under way, but the HSE cannot disclose details of those in case they lead to legal action. All of the investigations were prompted by reports from lab managers who are obliged by law to tell the HSE when an accident or near-miss happens at their facility.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey. Photograph: Rex Features/Rex Features
Some of the most worrisome incidents happened at the Surrey-based Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), renamed the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in October. In one case, scientists were handling anthrax when something went badly wrong. They meant to send harmless samples, killed by heat, to nearby AHVLA labs and others in York and Belfast. But somehow the tubes got mixed up. Instead of sending out dead material, the anthrax they sent was live and dangerous.

The staff who made the mistake were safe enough. They worked in a high-security lab built to contain lethal agents. But some of those who received the bugs did not. In Belfast, the anthrax was handled in a higher containment lab, meaning those staff were safe. In York, the samples were never opened. But at another AHVLA site, scientists opened the tubes in a less secure lab and got to work on the open bench. The incident at the AHVLA is one of the more serious biological accidents that has happened in the UK in recent years. But it was far from being the only one.
This article confirms what I said in my objections to the Francis Crick Institute Laboratory presently being built in King Cross, viz:
Security issues alone should prevent the research centre being built.  The centre would be a prime terrorist target  because (1) there are three iconic sites in the closest proximity – the Eurostar terminal, the British Library and the Medical Research Centre itself; (2) the nature of the work to be undertaken at the Centre – the public information released to date suggests that it will be handling dangerous material and (3), all three of the major British political parties have given it enthusiastic public support which both raises its public profile and attaches it to national politics -hit the centre = hit the politicians – (see document 23).
Whether as a result of a terrorist attack or a failure of bio-security the consequences of an escape of  dangerous biological agents would be severe, both in terms of any contamination of people and by the economic effects on London (and by extension the country) which the fear generated by the escape of toxins would bring.
I have been attempting without success to get answers about the security arrangements for the proposed research centre since 2007. (For my dealings with the consortium and its individual members on security and other matters see documents 10-22).
My requests have been turned down on the grounds that this would breach security. This is a bogus ground for refusal because I deliberately did not ask for detailed operational accounts of their security, which would compromise security,  but general issues such as whether the security staff will be employed directly by the centre; whether the staff will have been raised in Britain (vetting foreigners is in practice impossible); how cleaners (normally a weak point in security because they work at night when security is minimal); how toxic materials will be transported in and out of the centre and whether the security staff would be armed, something absolutely necessary if there is a threat of terrorist attacks especially if they involved suicide bombers.
The real reason why the consortium will not comment is they do not have a clue about how their security will work. The UKCMRI CEO John Cooper gave the game away at a meeting convened by St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action and  held on 4 10 2010 in the Somers Town Community Centre when he said that their security arrangements would not be decided for three years. It is absurd to allow people who have not considered in detail  the security issues involved before submitting a planning application to be granted that application, not least because the design and situation of the building should be taking these issues into account as one of the primary drivers of the design.
The security, both bio and anti-terrorist,  is particularly compromised by the intention of the consortium to allow scientists who are not employed by the consortium to carry out research. These people could be either from non-profit organisations or private firms:
“There will be dedicated space for technology transfer and additional lab space to enable the findings of the research teams within the centre to be developed and translated into clinical applications by scientists from pharmaceutical companies and partners.” The Bliss Project Concept and Vision (see document 7)
This raises two security problems: the vetting of such people and the lack of a single authority responsible for the security of the centre.   This is precisely what happened at Pirbright which was split between government and private business with no one in overall control (see document 9). Come the foot and mouth outbreak of 2007 no one would take responsibility with both sides blaming the other.
Thorough vetting of those who come from abroad would be impracticable and vetting of anyone born and raised in Britain but who has spent substantial periods of time abroad problematic. These considerations would be relevant to both scientists and other staff, many of whom would be foreign or have spent long periods out of the country.
I would also draw the planning committee’s attention to the fact that Islamic extremism is seen by the government as a growing problem in British universities (see document 5) and that one of the consortium’s members – UCL – has been recently had a student-  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – who went on to try to commit a terrorist act (see document 6).
The limited access proposed for the public would also be a weak link in the security.
Things are no more promising on the bio-security side. At the meeting of 4 10m 2010,  John Cooper promised that nothing more dangerous than influenza viruses would be in the centre. However, this  was meaningless because, as he very grudgingly admitted, there would be legal bar to this policy  being changed at some point in the future. Moreover, ‘flu viruses can be extremely toxic, vide the 1918 epidemic which swept Europe and caused more deaths than had occurred in military action during the Great War.
There is good reason to believe that toxins officially classified as more dangerous than influenza will be used. The MRC site in Mill Hill – the site Brill Place is meant to replace –  has 11 laboratories licenced for level 3 biohazards and one licensed for level 4 biohazards (see document 3).  The license for level 3 work allows the following to be used for research:
Biohazard Level 3: Bacteria and viruses that can cause severe to fatal disease in humans, but for which vaccines or other treatments exist, such as anthrax, West Nile virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS virus, variola virus (smallpox), tuberculosis, typhus, Rift Valley fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Among parasites Plasmodium falciparum, which causes Malaria, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis, also come under this level.
The consortium is applying for level 3 licenses for the proposed medical centre. Once they have these they can work on any of the viruses and bacteria listed above regardless of what is promised now.
Presumably whatever work the MRC has been conducting under the level 4 licence will continue. If it comes to the new centre work on these toxins would be covered:
Biohazard Level 4: Viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available, such as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases. When dealing with biological hazards at this level the use of a Hazmat suit and a self-contained oxygen supply is mandatory. The entrance and exit of a Level Four biolab will contain multiple showers, a vacuum room, an ultraviolet light room, autonomous detection system, and other safety precautions designed to destroy all traces of the biohazard. Multiple airlocks are employed and are electronically secured to prevent both doors opening at the same time. All air and water service going to and coming from a Biosafety Level 4 (P4) lab will undergo similar decontamination procedures to eliminate the possibility of an accidental release.
If the level 4 work is not to come to the proposed research centre the consortium’s claim that their work has to be done at the Brill Place siteis discredited. If it does come to the site then risk is raised considerably. As to whether it  will come to the site, answers given by John Davidson at a meeting held 11 10 2010 in the Ossulton TRA Hall  provide a strong pointer. Questioned by myself, he stated that the Mill Hill facility would definitely be closed if and when the centre was built and he could not rule out all the Mill Hill work being moved to the Brill Place site including the level 4 risk work.
The DCMS were certainly led to believe that the centre would deal with viruses other than influenza, viz.:
“4. MRC anticipates that some £205 m of additional investment will be secured from consortium partners for the development of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. This is investment which would otherwise be Lost to the public purse. This additional investment in the work of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) will support the delivery of high quality research on:
“ The origins of the AIDS epidemic, detecting tuberculosis (TB) infection, variations in the structure of the bird flu virus H5N1 all of which could Lead to more effective breakthroughs in drug development. Scientists at NIMR have also:- (With the University of Hong Kong) isolated the gene responsible for sensory development in the inner ear, which may lead to significant advances in the development of treatments for the deaf and those with severely impaired hearing; and determined the structure of the enzyme that regulates cellular energy levels which could lead to new drugs for type II diabetes, an illness that affects more than two million people in the UK. Taken together, these important results emerging from the UKCMRI could substantially improve the quality of life and allow those who benefit from the findings to continue to make their important contribution to the economy.” (See DCMS Q and A – document  4)
Every large organisation which has security issues always says their security is very tight and time and again the security fails. Pirbright said  exactly this before they had to admit that they were at fault. The members of the consortium say this. The MRC recently were involved in lax procedures which resulted in the death of a patient, viz.:
“Daily telegraph
Man dies in government cancer drug trial A man about to get married has died in a government-funded medical trial after receiving seven overdoses of drugs.
By Jon Swaine
Last Updated: 7:50PM BST 21 Sep 2008
Gary Foster, 27, was repeatedly given twice the amount of chemotherapy drugs he should have been prescribed. He was due to be married this month. Reports have said his death was caused by an error in the setting up of the trial on the computer system at University College London Hospital (UCLH). A second patient was affected by the same mistake, but survived. When the MRC suspected patients had been given overdoses, instead of calling the hospital immediately it wrote a letter – which a nurse at UCLH failed to open until two days after Mr Foster had died…” (see document 8).”
It is wildly improbable that there will not be a breach of security, either through negligence or terrorist action, from the Francis Crick Institute (FCI), which will be dealing with some of the most dangerous viruses.
Situated where the FCI is, any escape of pathogens would be unambiguously disastrous. It is next door to Eurostar Terminal  and St Pancras Station,  a few hundred yards from Kings Cross and Euston stations, a few yards from the British Museum and only the width of a street from residential housing on its Western boundary. Huge numbers of commuters and visitors to London pass through the area every day. It would be difficult to think of another part of London which would cause as much disruption in the event of the escape of dangerous viruses. Permitting the  building of the FCI on such a site is an act of criminal negligence by the planning authorities.



Do you want this potential terrorist target to be in the centre of London?

November 11, 2012
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The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) was granted planning permission for a research laboratory on 16 December 2007 . This is a consortium comprised of the Medical Research Council (a taxpayers funded body) , Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London which is part of London University. The Laboratory is now named the Francis Crick Institute and building is underway on a site directly behind the British Library in central London.

If built the research centre will be handling dangerous viruses which are permitted under a level 3 biohazard licence, viz:

“Biohazard Level 3: Bacteria and viruses that can cause severe to fatal disease in humans, but for which vaccines or other treatments exist, such as anthrax, West Nile virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS virus, variola virus (smallpox), tuberculosis, typhus, Rift Valley fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Among parasites Plasmodium falciparum, which causes Malaria, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis, also come under this level.”

The Medical Research Council currently handles even more toxic viruses n their Mill Hill site, namely, those which are permitted under a level 4 biohazard licence, viz.:

“Biohazard Level 4: Viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available, such as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases.”

To place such research on the site would be criminally irresponsible under any circumstances even if both the physical security and biohazard hygiene were first rate because of the risks of a terrorist attack. However, there can be no rational public confidence that will be the case because UKCMRI have persistently refused to give any details about how their security arrangements will be handled, even in terms which would not compromise their security, such as saying whether armed guards will be used or even whether the security will be directly employed by the consortium or sub-contracted out. There will also be groups working within the centre who are not directly working for the consortium and the public will have access to some areas. To undertake the building of the centre under these circumstances would not be merely criminally reckless but touch the confines of lunacy.

There are also issues with the disruption caused by building and the contamination of the bidding process for the site by Gordon Brown, who interfered with the process even before the formal bidding period was ended. Details of these issues can be found in my objection to the planning application which forms the first posts in the blog, as well as the detailed objections on security grounds. All the objections to the planning application which require proof are supported by documents.

Write to your MP and complain. Raise a stink wherever you can.

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Report and commentary on the STC hearing of 16 February 2011

February 18, 2011
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HoC Science and Technology Committee (STC)

 Thatcher Room

Committee members present:  Andrew Miller (Chair)  Labour , Gavin Barwell  Conservative, Stephen Metcalfe  Conservative , David Morris  Conservative, Stephen Mosley  Conservative, Pamela Nash  Labour , Graham Stringer  Labour, Roger Williams, Liberal Democrats 

Evidence given  on Wednesday 16 February between  at 9.18am and 10.40 am

Evidence taken from the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCRMI)

UKCRMI Witnesses

Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive and Director

Sir David Cooksey GBE, Chairman

John Cooper, Chief Operating Officer, UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

Replay the evidence at

Declaration of interest

A committee member, Gavin Barwell,  made a declaration of interest , namely,  he is paired with Sir Paul Nurse’s daughter Emily in the MP pairing scheme of the Royal Society. Details of the scheme can be found at pairing scheme

Dearie  me, what a coincidence that one of the committee should be paired with the daughter of the head of UKCRMI.

The general conduct of the evidence

There was a good deal of duplication of the material which was covered in the evidence given on 9 February.  I have concentrated only on new material both where a subject was not raised previously or where a subject was raised but something new was added .

Paul Nurse did most of the talking for UKCRMI, probably as much as 75%.

 The evidence given  fell primarily under the heading of waffle.  The air was filled with the type of meaningless beloved of the Great and the Good:  “most exciting biomedical initiative for a generation”   in Britain; the rest of the world look on the project with Envy”; “rhe project is the envy of the world”; “attracting the best from around the world””, “creating an area of brilliance” and “Brilliant people” . You get the idea.

The vast majority of the waffle – perhaps 85% –   was delivered by Paul Nurse in what I will admit was an engaging manner, but it was still waffle.

The MRC Business Case

At the previous meeting, the head of MRC John Savill, had revealed that the business case had been accepted by BUS but that as yet he had no details of any conditions the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) might have imposed  along with the acceptance. Very convenient because it meant that he could not be questioned about the detail of the acceptance.  As of yesterday, the committee has not received a copy of the business plan.

Under questioning, Cooper conceded that there were conditions imposed by BIS when they accepted  the MRC’s business case.  However, he  refused to say what  they were because he was unsure of the position with regard to business confidentiality.  He assured the committee “That none of those conditions have given me cause for concern”.   Incredibly, the  STC failed to press him on this matter, they did not  insist on the forwarding of BIS  approval letter  to the STC .  The first rule of investigation is simple: if someone does not want you to see a something, that is something you need to see.  

This episode was the most significant  thing to come out of the hearing.  There is something there which is either more significant than Cooper admits and/or strikes at the general raison d’etre for the siting of the laboratory in central London.

The position of Paul Nurse

There was concern expressed by the STC that  Nurse might not be able to give his all to  the job of UKCRMI CEO  because of his other commitments.  Nurse said his position was as follows:

–          He works “quite hard” (RH comment  I kid you not, he actually said this).

–          He has resigned from his post at Rockefeller University,  although he is continuing  to act for them until his successor takes over in March 2011. 

–          His position at the Royal Society is part-time.

–          He  remains a functioning research scientist and is presently arranging for his (personal) Rockefeller laboratory to be transferred to England.

–          Until the  laboratory was built, his role with UKCRMI would not involve operational decisions, merely planning ones.

–          He had great confidence in the rest of his management team to support him.

In the light of these considerations, Nurse said he was certain he could fulfil the role of CEO.  Unfortunately, the STC left it at that.  I think anyone might have doubts about Nurse’s  ability to give  enough time and concentration to managing a highly complex scheme whilst doing his own research and heading the Royal Society, a post which involves a fair bit of media work, speaking and general representation of the society, some of it abroad.  I suspect that John Cooper will be the  man really running the show.

Nurse has a contract for 5 years (the delivery of the facility) renewable at the discretion of the UKCRMI board for another 5 years (operational time).

Once the new laboratory  is up and running,  Nurse said he would be charge of allocating resources. 

At various points in the evidence  Nurse accepted “ultimate responsibility”  for the success of the project, both in its building and operational  outcomes when built, and for security.

The origins of the UKCRMI scheme

Nurse claimed he was its progenitor, having hatched the idea in 1999 when he was working for CR-UK. Nothing came of the idea at that time and it was not until 2004 that he became involved again, this time with the Medical Research Council.

One point of interest did come out of this passage of the evidence. Nurse said that in 1999 he was thinking in terms of siting the joint-venture in the Millennium Dome.  This undermines further the claim that the  site has to be in central London to get the benefit of the “cluster effect”.

Cost of the building

The STC again expressed concern over the cost of the building. UKCRMI countered this pointing out the buildings’ likely longevity (Nurse said 60-80 years, Cooper 50-60 years). Nurse also claimed that its initial  cost (£650 million for the building and £65 million for the equipment) represented only 3 or 4 years operational costs.  This did not quite square with the £100 million  base running costs pa plus perhaps £15 million for other sources which Nurse anticipated.

Cooper attempted to make the figures square by saying the £650 million covered the purchase of the land (£85 million), work in kind undertaken by Cancer-UK  and professional fees.  He put the cost of building at £400m+  not £650 million. This was something of damp squib because however the money was spent, it was still spent.

Cooper put the lifespan of the laboratory at 50-60 years; Paul Nurse thought it would be 60-80 years.

Delivery on time and within cost

Cooper said that a contingency for inflation was built into the costing. This happened “a year to 18 months ago.” He was not vulgar enough to say what this figure was,  but assured the committee it was in line with the way inflation had played out since the contingency was set.  No one on the committee pressed him further.

After a good deal of unseemly preening by both Cooper and Nurse about how they had previously run such projects successfully,  Nurse admitted there was no plan B if the project ran into severe cost or time overruns.

Cooper had a nasty moment when he admitted that a project he had run had experience problems, but when questioned about this he said it had not been a project he had been involved with from the outset.

The laboratories at Mill Hill (NIMR) and Lincoln’s Inn (CR-UK)

Nurse claimed that Mill Hill  (built in the 1930s) was on the verge of   obsolescence and Lincoln’s Inn (built in the 1950s) would be within the next ten years.  He attributed this to their age.  The committee failed to ask for details of why they were obsolescent or why they could not be renovated.

The problem for UKCRMI  with this stance  is that even if what Nurse says is true, a new laboratory could be built on the Mill Hill site to house both existing laboratories (plus the Clare Laboratory – see below).  It is no argument for moving the laboratories to Brill Place.

The size of the proposed laboratory

Cooper said it would measure 90,000 square metres externally and 83,000 metres internally.  

Why must the laboratory be in central London?

An already  weak case was weakened  further by Nurse’s comment that he had thought of putting such a research laboratory in the Millennium Dome and the fact (not mentioned in last week’s evidence) that Cancer-UK laboratory at Clare Hall near  Potters Bar (Hertfordshire) was part of UKCRMI and would remain in operation to house some of the animals used by UKCRMI.  (Potters Bar is around 9 miles from Kings Cross; Mill Hill around 6 and a half miles. )

Nurse completely  let the cat out of the bag  when he said that young scientists would not come to the UKCRMI laboratory unless it was in central London because quote “They like central London. That’s the way it is. They don’t want to live in Mill Hill”.

This raises a very interesting point. Nurse said that when the Laboratory was up and running there would be 250 postgraduate scientists and 500 post-doctoral  scientists working there which would constitute the large  majority of the scientific staff.  Their ages would be between 21-34.  Scientists  are not generally well paid and young scientists are almost invariably on mediocre salaries. How on earth would these people be able to afford to live in central London? Shock horror! They will probably have to live in places such as Mill Hill.

Nurse also improbably claimed that being at Mill Hill added an hour or more to journeys  to other parts of the UK compared with a site in central London. The train journey between Mill Hill and St Pancras takes 17 minutes. 

Nurse’s final throw of the dice on this subject was to claim that using a site such as Mill Hill made it impossible to get the interaction between people from different disciplines. This will come as a shock to those working at Mill Hill because the NIMR website lists this research:

Research groups by theme




Chromosome biology

Cell biology

Evolutionary biology

Developmental biology


Genetics and genomics


Mathematical biology

Physiology and metabolism

Systems biology

Stem cell biology

Structural biology

Infectious disease

Several members of the committee asked why the site had to be in London  at all and suggested that it could have been placed in places such as Birmingham or Manchester.  Nurse  said it was impracticable because it would be seen as provincial and consequently would not be a magnet for all the “best and the brightest” he was so keen to attract.

 Near the end of the session, Graham Stringer (Labour) suggested that the plan to put the laboratory in central London seemed to be a case of “the great and the good” deciding that this is where it should be and then post hoc framing the  arguments for its siting there rather than elsewhere.  Nurse vehemently denied this.  

Biohazard Levels

Nurse stated categorically that no Level 4 work would be done  on the site because any  level 4 work  would be undertaken elsewhere. This did not clarify the position on the mysterious 3+ biosecurity level which appears to have no formal sanction. If all the work is to be at Level 3, why the need for the 3+ security level?  Unfortunately, the STC made no attempt to ferret out what level 3+ means.


Nurse said that UKCRMI intended to recruit the “brightest and best” from around the world. This has security implications because anyone born abroad or has lived abroad for a long time cannot in the nature of things be meaningfully security vetted.  The fact that these will be scientists does not mean they cannot be terrorists, vide the NHS  doctors who attempted to bomb Glasgow airport.  

No one on the committee raised this point


Nurse said it would 99% mice,  plus a few rats, fish and flies.   The Clare Hall Laboratory will continue to house many of the mice.

Staff careers

Nurse anticipates young researchers being recruited, spending 12 years at UKCRMI before carrying   UKCRMI projects and working methods to other research bodies.    Nurse also floated the idea that when they did leave UKCRMI, researchers would be allowed to take  for free the equipment they were  using for their experiments at UKCRMI plus funding for a year to carry on their research. The idea of this is that it would “seed”  the new work and ideas at different institutions.

Intellectual property rights

Cooper said that although  the rights would be held by the UKCRMI board,  it was unlikely they would produce much money.  This  judgement he based on the experience of other institutions engaged in scientific research.  Nurse backed him up.

Nurse said the arrangements for intellectual property rights for scientists remained to be negotiated.

Liaison with local residents

Cooper claimed that 11 significant changes had been made to the design of the building as a result of discussions with the local residents. He did not elaborate. 

Cooper said that three liaison groups were to be set up for: 

–          The period of construction

–          For proposed living centre

–          General matters

It is noteworthy that at no time has UKCRMI made any offer of compensation for disturbance to the local residents who will be directly affected by years of building work and the associated problems generated by transporting people and materials to and from the site.  That is a pretty strong pointer that they do not give a damn about the residents.

General comment

The committee was generally much less sharp in their questioning than the week before , although Stephen Metcalf again asked difficult questions and had some idea of how to build a line of questioning. Nonetheless, there were a number of disturbing incidences of not pushing very obvious matters such as the details of the BIS approval letter’s conditions.  I cannot really believe that this happened simply because of the inadequacy of the committee members. Rather, it suggests they have either been warned off causing trouble or are simply doing so off their own bat.

 (For those unfamiliar with Commons Committees a little bit of information. The members of a committee do not just ask what they want. They are each allocated a topic to question upon. The allocation is made by the committee clerk. This can make the questioning seem rather stilted as questions which naturally flow from points raised are dropped by the member because they do not come within his allotted area.)

If this committee does not recommend the project I shall very surprised .

Science and Technology Committee 9 February 2011

February 10, 2011
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The House of Commons  Science and Technology Committee took evidence from UKCRMI and the Somers Town Planning Action (SPA).  The official  recording of the evidence can be found at

I shall  be writing a report on this, but  it was clear from the hearing that UKCRMI floundered at various points and were reduced to saying they would have to supply the Committee with information later.  There were also a number of points which were either not addressed or insufficiently examined.

I have written to the clerk to the committee asking him to inform me if and when the information is provided and to each MP on the committee raising the matters left unexamined and inviting them to visit the site. 

The emails to the clerk and the MPs are below.


10 February 2011

Glenn McKee
Committee Clerk
Science and Technology Committee
Telephone: 020 7219 8367
 Dear Mr  McKee,
I attended the UKCMRI hearing yesterday. There were a number of instances when UKCMRI were unable or unwilling  to answer either at all or completely. Would it be possible for you email me when and if you receive the additional information they have promised. Would I be right in thinking that this information will be made public?
Am I correct in thinking that  all the members of the committee were present yesterday except for Gregg McClymont and Alok Sharma for both the UKCRMI and SPA evidence and Roger Williams for the SPA evidence?
Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson


10 February 2011

To all members of the committee

My name is Robert Henderson. I asked to give evidence to the committee at the UKCMRI hearing of 9 February.  This request was refused. Hence, this email.

 Although most of the important points were covered,  there were one or two that were either not touched upon  or failed to be debated in sufficient depth.  The first is the extreme proximity of the site to the  Eurostar Terminal, The British Library and residential housing.   To give you an idea of how close,  the site is 50 feet from my front window.  It is also a surprising small site, a fact which was tacitly acknowledged when the representatives of UKCMRI admitted they would  have to be putting work out to other sites, including that obvious component of the London “cluster”,  Edinburgh University.  I really do think the committee should visit the site. Actually seeing how close it will be to prime terrorist targets, residents and passengers is a real eye-opener.  I should be delighted to act as your  guide.

On the subject of terrorist attacks, while it is true that other laboratories exist in central London with Level 3 licences , there are two prime differences between them and this site: (1) the scale of the project and (2) the vast amount of publicity given to it, not least by  Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Boris Johnson.  That, together with its proximity to Eurostar and the British Library,  makes it a much more attractive and likely target for terrorists.   

It was noticeable that when challenged over terrorist security issues, the UKCMRI representatives descended into waffle. This did not surprise me because I have spent the past few years attempting unsuccessfully to get them to answer such simple questions as are the security staff and  cleaners  to be employed directly by the consortium or employed through sub-contractors.  That is an important question because any lowly paid staff are a prime security risk, especially cleaners who work outside normal hours with little supervision.

The other issue I  would draw you attention to is the biohazard  level.  The UKCMRI representatives were decidedly shifty when the question of the Level 4 licence held by the Mill Hill site.  Despite the most diligent use of search engines,  I cannot  find any official listing for their claimed biohazard 3+ level of security. The suspicion must be that it is Level 4 in disguise.   Just to remind you , Level 4 covers this type of toxin:

“Biohazard Level 4: Viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available, such as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases. When dealing with biological hazards at this level the use of a Hazmat suit and a self-contained oxygen supply is mandatory. The entrance and exit of a Level Four biolab will contain multiple showers, a vacuum room, an ultraviolet light room, autonomous detection system, and other safety precautions designed to destroy all traces of the biohazard. Multiple airlocks are employed and are electronically secured to prevent both doors opening at the same time. All air and water service going to and coming from a Biosafety Level 4 (P4) lab will undergo similar decontamination procedures to eliminate the possibility of an accidental release.”

Yours sincerely,


Robert Henderson

The Evening Standard on security

December 20, 2010
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Huge security plan to protect virus superlab from terrorists

Mark Blunden

Security around a “superlab” planned next door to a major London railway station will be among the tightest in the capital amid fears of “domestic extremism”.

Sensitive documents detailing protection for one of Europe’s biggest bio-medical research centres, which will specialise in fighting influenza, show it includes anti-car bomb devices.

Camden council is asking for a passport or driving licence as proof of identification before showing residents planning documents for the £600 million site behind St Pancras station.

The glass, brick and metal UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation will be secured to “biosafety level three-plus”.

It will be capable of containing flu viruses, malaria and tuberculosis, plus cancer and HIV to become a “global centre of research excellence”.

Campaigners fear the site, which is also close to hundreds of homes, could pose a risk to public health if airborne viruses escape from the building, which the centre denies.

Opponents are also concerned the huge building near the British Library could become a terrorist target and the focal point for protests against Home Office-licensed animal testing.


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