Six members of Sage awarded OBEs in Queen's honours despite potential inquiry

The decision to honour members of the Government’s scientific advisory committee has been branded ‘unwise and premature’ before a potential public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.

Six members of Sage (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) will be made OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for their work during the coronavirus crisis.

But Tory MPs pointed out that some of their recommendations had been marked by controversy and their advice may come under scrutiny at an investigation down the line.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised in July to hold an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic so that ‘lessons could be learnt’.

Some awards are understood to have been withheld by the honours committee due to growing concern about the handling of the crisis, according to The Times.

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Those who did receive honours were considered to have made a ‘sustained and positive contribution’.

The majority of the honours list was compiled before the ongoing pandemic, but it was deferred in order to consider nominations for people playing crucial roles during the first months of the pandemic.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the experts may ‘richly deserve an honour at some point, but this is not the point for a variety of reasons’, adding: ‘There may end up being a major inquiry, and that shouldn’t be biased.’

He told the Daily Mail: ‘So I think this is not wise, though it may not be wrong. Their advice has been controversial and has sometimes changed and was sometimes wrong, though this is unsurprising giving the difficult of responding to an unprecedented pandemic.

‘So while that is reasonable, it does make the early award of an honour unwise and premature.’

Sir Desmond Swayne, the Tory MP, said that ‘members of Sage work very hard and are thoroughly deserving’, but added that the list ‘needs to be a lot more representative than it is’.

He told the paper: ‘While it would be churlish to exclude scientists from the list, when all this comes home to roost and the finger pointing starts, I don’t think an honour would save anyone.’

Among those being made OBE are Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

He has previously suggested that herd immunity was the only solution in tackling the virus.

The advice was initially considered before quickly being dismissed by the Government, which has denied it was ever policy.

Professor Medley said: ‘I am grateful that the work and expertise on SPI-M has been recognised.

‘The provision of scientific evidence to support and guide the government response to Covid-19 is critical to help the UK get through this epidemic, and it has been a privilege to work with my colleagues to generate research, understanding and guidance.’


Calum Semple, Professor of Child Health and Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool, has also been made OBE.

Professor Semple has called for a brief national lockdown to slow the virus’s second wave. He also suggested the virus was as deadly as Ebola, which has killed tens of thousands across Africa.

Also included on the list was Professor Catherine Noakes, a specialist in airborne infection at the University of Leeds, who has previously hit out at the Government for relaxing the two-meter social distancing rule.


Professor Julia Gog, a Maths expert at Cambridge University, and behavioural expert Dr James Rubin, of King’s College London, have similarly been honoured for services to public health during the pandemic.

Dr Rubin has consistently called for the Government to be clear with the public about the effects of various lockdown measures and stressed the importance of maintaining their trust.

Professor Lucy Yardley, a health psychology expert at Bristol and Southampton is also honoured.

She has previously criticised the government’s ‘top down rules that are changing all the time and are different in different places and in different organisations’.

A Cabinet Office spokesman told the Mail: ‘The independent Science and Technology Committee set a high bar for moving forward with recommendations at this time – and recognising that work in so many areas is on-going.

‘The Committee looked for vital, often voluntary, contributions to the pandemic response with frontline impact, alongside extraordinary career wide contributions.’

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