Government scientists receive 'suspicious packages' and abuse from anti-vaxxers

2 September 2021, 19:17

Professor Chris Whitty is one of many scientists who has advised the government throughout the pandemic.
Professor Chris Whitty is one of many scientists who has advised the government throughout the pandemic. Picture: Alamy

By Elizabeth Haigh

Scientists who advised the government during the pandemic have been sent suspicious packages and received other abuse from people who believe they are "making bad decisions", a professor has revealed.

Professor Calum Semple, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he had had a "particularly nasty" experience.

Professor Semple, who is a professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, has appeared on television and radio during the pandemic.

He says that scientists such as himself have "attracted adverse attention".

At a webinar hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine he was asked about the issue of scientists receiving abuse.

He confirmed that an "anti-vax group" posted abuse targeting him on social media, writing things such as "Calum kills wildlife for fun".

Professor Semple said: "We are fortunate that the police are open to hearing from us and there's good liaison support for us when these threats are made. That was one particularly nasty event."

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"There have been others since then and suspicious packages sent to Sage members and myself.

"This comes from both extremes - people that feel that we're making bad decisions and they don't appreciate that Sage is not a decision-making body."

He stressed that Sage members examine and answer questions from chief scientific officers, and give their best estimates to government advisors.

In July, Lewis Hughes, a former estate agent, was given a suspended sentence when he admitted a charge of assault by beating after England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, was put in a headlock in St James's Park in central London.

Professor Whitty said he was "humiliated" by the incident, and that it had occurred after he refused to take a photo with Mr Hughes.

Footage of the incident went viral on social media, and the 24-year-old was fired from his job following the incident.

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Professor Whitty has also suffered other instances of abuse, but has previously played the incidents down, saying that it "occasionally happens".

After being harassed outside Westminster, he told a Downing Street press conference: "In terms of being harangued ... the odd young lad showing off occasionally happens.

"I didn't think anything of it, frankly. I was very surprised it was picked up by the media at all, as anything of any importance."