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Why was Dr Raabe sacked?

Mark Easton | 17:51 UK time, Monday, 7 February 2011

A controversial sacking, mutiny, resignations, appointments, threats of another mutiny and now a Christian doctor forced out for having "embarrassing" views: welcome to the strange world of government drugs advice.

As revealed on this blog last month, the appointment of Dr Hans-Christian Raabe to the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) caused at least one member of the committee to threaten resignation. It wasn't the doctor's ideas about drugs which upset his council colleague ("just say no", if you are interested), but his views on homosexuality.

Dr Raabe is a leading light in the Manchester-based Maranatha Community, dedicated to "re-establishing Christian values in society". As such, he regards homosexuality as sinful and co-wrote a paper in 2005 which claimed that there are a "disproportionately greater number of homosexuals among paedophiles".

I understand that his anti-gay views led a number of other ACMD members to question the suitability of Dr Raabe for the council and today the Home Office put out a statement saying his "appointment to the ACMD has been revoked and we will be starting a recruitment campaign for a replacement GP shortly."

When I pressed the Home Office on exactly why Dr Raabe had been dismissed they sent me a follow-up statement saying that his "failure to disclose a report which he co-authored which links homosexuality to paedophilia raises concerns over his credibility to provide balanced advice on drug misuse issues and impacts on the smooth-running of the ACMD."

Well, I can see the truth of the second part of the explanation. It would hardly help the "smooth-running" of the council if it was hit by yet another round of resignations and bitterness. Nor would it do much for confidence in the Home Office's grip on drugs policy.

But it is the first part that is really interesting. Was it his "failure to disclose" the existence of a six-year-old document on a subject unconnected with drugs policy that "raises concerns"? Or was the quality of the science in the document itself so questionable as to damage his "credibility" as an expert adviser? Or is the key word here "balanced" - that his Christian views on homosexuality are too extreme for the Home Office?

Peter Hitchens, writing in the Mail on Sunday, asks many of the same questions that I wanted answered.

"He is said by unnamed sources to have been specifically asked to disclose anything about his past which might cause embarrassment to the government or the committee. I am interested as to what the official definition of 'embarrassment' is, or whether Dr Raabe could reasonably have been expected to view (his 2005 paper) as potentially embarrassing to the Home Office or the Advisory Committee."

You cannot simply sack somebody appointed to a government advisory body because he/she has strong religious views that are irrelevant to the job in hand. That would seem to be discriminatory.

Support for this view comes from a surprising quarter - the former Lib Dem MP, Dr Evan Harris. Now director of the Campaign for Evidence Based Policy, he says: "No advisor should be dismissed purely for holding and expressing entirely lawful views on another subject, no matter how objectionable."

In an article in the Daily Mail, Dr Raabe is quoted making a similar point.

"I have been discriminated against because of my opinions and beliefs which are in keeping with the teaching of the major Churches. This sets a dangerous precedent: Are we saying that being a Christian is now a bar to public office?"

Dr Harris, however, does believe the drugs minister James Brokenshire was right to revoke the appointment - he just did it for the wrong reasons.

"When it comes to drugs Dr Raabe has no expertise, no research background and no relevant specialist experience and worse still has an ideological position on drug policy that he has declared his intention to force through the Council. That's why he wasn't fit to be an expert adviser, not because of his wrong and offensive views on homosexuality."

The Home Office statement says nothing about Dr Raabe's lack of relevant experience and he says officials never questioned his "knowledge and expertise" when they dismissed him. I suspect ministers were pleased to have someone on the committee who was prepared to challenge the harm-reduction policies of the previous government as "futile" and "discredited". All eyes are now on whom they find to replace him.


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