UKRI issues statement on bullying complaint

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UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) received an anonymous complaint of bullying against Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The complaint, raised in 2020 through our whistleblowing process, was taken extremely seriously, and an independent investigator was appointed to conduct a thorough investigation.

The findings and recommendation of the investigation were accepted by UKRI and Professor Watt, and appropriate action has been taken. Details of the investigation report and subsequent action are confidential.

The individuals involved in the investigation have been supported in line with the UKRI whistleblowing and HR policies.

No place for bullying

There is no place for bullying and harassment at UKRI or in our research and innovation communities. We are committed to ensuring we continuously improve our culture.

We have addressed the issues raised as part of this process and we have also used the experience to strengthen our ongoing work to eliminate bullying and harassment.  

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of MRC, said:

I confirm that an anonymous whistleblower complaint was made related to my role as Executive Chair of MRC. I engaged fully with the investigation, accepted the findings and offered written apologies to the individuals involved. While of course respecting their anonymity.

I would like to apologise to them again publicly. I was devastated to learn that my actions and behaviour had affected colleagues in a negative way. I have now undertaken an extensive personal improvement plan to address the issues that were raised. I have learned a lot from this process and I am applying that knowledge actively in all aspects of my life.

Over the years I have been a whistleblower myself and I have supported other colleagues to speak up when something is not right. Bullying is abhorrent and I am a fervent believer in a positive research environment where everyone feels comfortable raising and resolving issues in a timely fashion.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

It is profoundly upsetting that people have experienced this behaviour and I am grateful to those who have taken the difficult step of speaking up. Bullying is not tolerated at UKRI.

This complaint was taken extremely seriously.  An independent investigator was appointed to conduct a rigorous investigation and we have worked hard to ensure that appropriate action has been taken in line with UKRI policy.

It is so important to me that we collectively create a working culture in which diverse views are valued and everyone is treated with respect. In this way, issues can be freely raised and addressed when they first arise, so that bullying and harassment are eliminated.

Developing an inclusive working environment

Within MRC, a programme of work is in progress to develop a fully inclusive working environment.  At a wider organisational level there is continuous work to maintain a respectful, kind culture, where staff feel psychologically safe. Key actions include:

  • Introducing new training materials focussing on promoting equality and eliminating bullying and harassment.
  • Developing a new UKRI anti-bullying and harassment policy and procedure.
  • Maintaining high visibility about bullying and harassment, including articles and videos on the staff intranet, coverage at the all-staff webinar and work in partnership with staff networks to raise awareness and capability, and signpost staff to appropriate support.
  • Reviewing the UKRI whistleblowing ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ policy and procedure.

Professor Fiona Watt is an employee of King’s College London, seconded to UK Research and Innovation during this period. The whistleblowing investigation was commissioned by UK Research and Innovation and carried out by an independent investigator.  The university supported these proceedings.

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