Sacked – for telling the truth about drugs

Government fires top adviser for challenging its hardline policy on cannabis and ecstasy

The Government's drugs tsar was forced to resign last night for stating his view that cannabis, ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than the legal drugs tobacco and alcohol.

The Home Secretary Alan Johnson asked Professor David Nutt to resign as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), saying he had "lost confidence" in his ability to give impartial advice.

But last night Professor Nutt, who is head of psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol, retaliated, accusing the Government of "misleading" the pubic in its messages about drugs and of "Luddite" tendencies.

He was backed by other senior scientists and politicians.

Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Oxford University and former chief executive of the Medical Research Council, said: "The Government cannot expect the experts who serve on its independent committees not to voice their concern if the advice they give is rejected even before it is published. "I worry that the dismissal of Professor Nutt will discourage academic and clinical experts from offering their knowledge and time to help the Government in the future."

Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London, where Professor Nutt made his comments, said: "I'm dismayed that the Home Secretary appears to believe that political calculation trumps honest and informed scientific opinion. The message is that, when it comes to the Home Office's relationship with the research community, honest researchers should be seen but not heard." He added it was "a bad day for science and for the cause of evidence-informed policy making".

Professor Nutt had become a thorn in the side of ministers with his criticisms of drugs policy. He clashed with former home secretary Jacqui Smith when he suggested ecstasy, which causes 30 deaths a year, was less dangerous than horse-riding, which causes 100 deaths a year. He also argued that, to prevent one episode of schizophrenia linked to cannabis use, it would be necessary to "stop 5,000 men aged 20 to 25 from ever using" the drug.

Most drugs experts believe his analysis is right. But ministers did not want to hear the truth or at least to be reminded of it repeatedly. The Home Secretary asked him to consider his position after a recent lecture in which attacked what he called the "artificial" separation of alcohol and tobacco from other, illegal, drugs. Last night Professor Nutt said he stood by his comments. "My view is policy should be based on evidence. It's a bit odd to make policy that goes in the face of evidence. The danger is they are misleading us. The scientific evidence is there: it's in all the reports we published. Our judgements about the classification of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy have been based on a great deal of very detailed scientific appraisal.

"Gordon Brown makes completely irrational statements about cannabis being 'lethal', which it is not. I'm not prepared to mislead the public about the harmfulness of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy. I think most scientists will see this as an example of the Luddite attitude of governments towards science."

He repeated his view that cannabis was "not that harmful" and that parents should be more worried about alcohol.

"The greatest concern to parents should be that their children do not get completely off their heads with alcohol because it can kill them ... and it leads them to do things which are very dangerous, such as to kill themselves or others in cars, get into fights, get raped, and engage in other activities which they regret subsequently. My view is that, if you want to reduce the harm to society from drugs, alcohol is the drug to target at present."

In a recent broadside, Professor Nutt accused Jacqui Smith, who oversaw the reclassification of cannabis from Class C to Class B, of "distorting and devaluing" scientific research. He said her decision to reclassify cannabis as a "precautionary step" sent mixed messages and undermined public faith in government science.

"I think we have to accept young people like to experiment – with drugs and other potentially harmful activities – and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm. We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong."

The Home Office said Mr Johnson had written to Professor Nutt expressing "surprise and disappointment" over his remarks. Mr Johnson said in the letter that Professor Nutt had gone beyond providing evidence to "lobbying" for changes to policy. He said: "As Home Secretary it is for me to make decisions, having received advice from the [Council] ... It is important that the Government's messages on drugs are clear and as an adviser you do nothing to undermine the public understanding of them ... I am afraid the manner in which you have acted runs contrary to your responsibilities."

The shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: "This was an inevitable decision after his latest ill-judged contribution to the debate, but it is a sign of lack of focus at the Home Office that it didn't act sooner, given that he has done this before."

But Phil Willis, chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, said: "I am writing immediately to the Home Secretary to ask for clarification as to why Sir David Nutt has been relieved of duties as chair of the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs at a time when independent scientific advice to Government is essential. It is disturbing if an independent scientist should be removed for reporting sound scientific advice."

Claudia Rubin from Release – a national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law – said the expert should not have been penalised. "It's a real shame and a real indictment of the Government's refusal to take any proper advice on this subject," she said.

News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links