Professor Neil Ferguson’s mother-in-law has rushed to his defence, claiming that it is not a big deal that he allowed a woman into his home twice during the lockdown he has repeatedly advocated.
Eileen Pirie, 79, said the Imperial College scientist, who resigned from all government roles after his trysts became public, had been working long hours plotting Britain’s path through the pandemic.
And she defended his right to have a woman other than her daughter – Kim Polgreen – visiting him at his flat in London, saying that Prof Ferguson and his wife are ‘no longer close’.
Speaking outside her Oxford home, Mrs Pirie said: ‘I think it is absolutely disgraceful the things that are being said about him. All of this derision because he invited a woman into his flat?
‘Is this really such a big deal. I think we need to get things in perspective. Neil has organised, not single-handedly but to a great degree, our getting out of this huge and awful situation that we are all in.
‘He has taken so much of his own personal time over this. He never has any feeling of watching the clock. It doesn’t matter what the time is, he just works.
‘I just cannot understand how someone who has done so much good for this country can be vilified in this way.’
She said ordinarily the scientist splits his time between his city flat and the family home in Oxford. Since the start of the year, however, he has been cocooned in the capital working long hours and rarely seeing his family.
She added: ‘I guess he shouldn’t have done it, but he has had the virus and he has huge responsibilities and just a few friends. This is another of them and he invited her in. Is she a girlfriend? Maybe, I don’t know but what I do know is that he has been working his socks off for this country and this is how he is repaid.
Professor Ferguson (left), 51, allowed his lover, Antonia Staats to visit him at his home. The Imperial College scientist, who has resigned from all government roles, is understood to be estranged from his wife Kim Polgreen (right)
Antonia Staats (left) and her husband Chris Lucas (right) have been described as a ‘lovely couple’ who have been enjoying the lockdown and jointly home schooling their two young children in the absence of their au pair
The South London home of Antonia Staats, which she shares with her husband Chris and their two children. Prof Ferguson is thought to have met Ms Staat’s husband and they share an interest in data science, a friend told the Telegraph.
Neighbours at Professor Ferguson’s former marital home in Oxford (pictured above) were furious at his behaviour. He and his wife Kim, who is involved with the residents’ association, are said to be estranged
Lockdown will be eased on MONDAY: Government will drop ‘stay at home’ message this weekend when PM eases restrictions as Matt Hancock says cafes with ‘outdoor facilities’ could REOPEN and pubs gear up to let drinkers order rounds from beer gardens
Boris Johnson today announced he is hoping to begin easing the UK’s coronavirus lockdown on Monday as Matt Hancock suggested cafes could reopen if they have outdoor drinking areas.
The Prime Minister said some measures will be lifted from the start of next week if the latest scientific evidence shows the spread of the disease is sufficiently under control.
The PM will renew social distancing restrictions on Thursday before using an address to the nation on Sunday night to set out his lockdown exit strategy.
He is pushing ahead despite today admitting the UK’s death toll, which is closing in on 30,000 and is the worst in Europe, is ‘appalling’.
Mr Johnson said the Sunday address would prepare people for potential changes on Monday but the specifics remain a secret.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave a hint as to what could be expected as he suggested cafes with outdoor seating could be allowed to reopen in certain circumstances.
He told Sky News: ‘There is strong evidence that outdoors the spread is much, much lower, so there may be workarounds that some businesses, for instance cafes, especially over the summer, may be able to put into place.’
His comments are likely to prompt questions as to whether pubs could also be allowed to reopen over the summer if they have a beer garden as some chains suggested customers could order rounds using their mobile phones.
Meanwhile, Public Health England is said to have told councils across the country to prepare this weekend to shift away from the government’s current ‘stay home’ message to a new slogan.
Mr Johnson made his lockdown timing announcement as he returned to the House of Commons for the first time since his recovery from coronavirus.
‘Should he have had a woman in to see him? If I invite a man into my house, does the world rock? We need a sense of perspective.’
Mrs Pirie said that Dr Ferguson and his wife Kim, who have a 16 year old son between them, had separated as a couple some years ago but remained supportive of one another as parents.
‘We are still incredibly close as a family,’ she said. ’We spent Christmas together. Neil did the cooking and then sat on the floor playing with his son. That is the sort of lovely bloke he is. He and his wife are not a great lovey-dovey couple. They haven’t been for years but he has always been incredibly supportive and honourable.
‘He is just a lovely bloke and I am amazed by this. All because he invites a friend in, well maybe she is his girlfriend, I don’t know, but he and my daughter are not close, they are very supportive of one another as parents, but you either make it in a marriage or you don’t. But as far as we are concerned he is a great support to all of us and I am just appalled at what he is going through now. The derision that is now aimed towards him is wholly wrong.’
She said Dr Ferguson had caught coronavirus at about the same time as the Prime Minister.
‘I don’t know who infected who but Boris sees so many people and that’s what happened.
‘Of course Neil, who is quite young and fit, got over it quite easily and poor old Boris less so.’
After Prof Ferguson was caught flouting the measures, former Brexit secretary David Davis called for a shake up of the Government’s lockdown strategy during the coronavirus which he claimed was based on ‘secret and potentially flawed calculations’.
Mr Davis’s intervention comes a day before Ministers are officially due to review the measures – although Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced he is hoping to begin easing the lockdown from Monday.
Prof Ferguson was branded an ‘arrogant hypocrite’ by critics today for ‘undermining’ the Government’s position and there was pressure for the police to fine him for ignoring the lockdown rules he helped create.
But Scotland Yard said today that while his behaviour is ‘plainly disappointing’, officers ‘do not intend to take any further action’ after ‘he accepted that he made an error of judgement and has taken responsibility’.
And Mr Davis, 71, tweeted: ‘A bigger issue than Prof Ferguson’s private life is the accuracy of his model. When applied to the Swedish policy it forecast 40,000 deaths by now, over 15 times the reality.
‘We need the whole model, its assumptions and working in the public domain. We can no longer run our strategy on secret advice and potentially flawed calculations.’
Prof Ferguson will no longer advise the Government in any capacity, the PM’s spokesman said today, having quit the influential SAGE committee and the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group [NERVTAG].
His employer Imperial College London is standing by him – but it is not clear if he will lose the significant amounts of taxpayer-funded grants he receives for his research each year.
In a podcast on March 31, 24 hours after her first visit to his flat, Ms Staats, who is said to have met her lover on online dating site OkCupid a year ago, said of the lockdown: ‘I think it’s also a strain on – maybe strained has sounded too negative – but it’s an interesting relationship challenge, for Chris [her husband] and my relationship.’
And despite seeing her lover across town as the pandemic approached its peak she admitted: ‘Chris has been not feeling great and thinks he got it. But we can’t know for sure’.
Prof Ferguson is thought to have met Ms Staat’s husband Chris, who also has tightly cropped hair and glasses, and they learned they share an interest in data science, a friend said.
Prof Ferguson’s married lover is a Left-wing campaigner who has repeated slammed Boris Johnson and Brexit on social media (pictured right, with campaigners from activist front Avaaz protesting a ‘No-Deal Bomb)
Former Brexit secretary David Davis has called for a shake up of the Government’s strategy during the coronavirus lockdown
Mr Davis claimed the Government’s lockdown strategy was based on ‘secret and potentially flawed calculations’
Matt Hancock said: ’It’s just extraordinary. I don’t understand the decision [to ignore the lockdown]. I am speechless – and that doesn’t often happen to me. But I am. The social distancing rules are there for everyone. And they are incredibly important and deadly serious’.
Speaking to Sky News today the Health Secretary hinted that the police should fine Prof Ferguson for breaking the lockdown laws. He said: ’It’s a matter for the police.. but I think the social distancing rules are there for a reason. I back the police here. They will make the decisions independently – but I think he was right to resign’.
Neil Ferguson was nicknamed ‘Professor Lockdown’ when the crisis began because he convinced Boris Johnson to order millions to stay at home – with the Health Secretary admitting today that his advice, which included apocalyptic warnings of 500,000 UK deaths, had heavily influenced the Government’s policies.
The academic also predicted the US faced 2.2million death without a lockdown.
Today, Elon Musk branded him a ‘moron’ and a ‘tool’ and said he and other academics spooked the White House into initiating its own lockdown by peddling ‘fake science’.
How architect of the lockdown lectured the country while flouting the rules
Professor Neil Ferguson, 51, pictured on March 25 before the Commons Science and Technology Committee – five days before allowed his married lover, Antonia Staats, to visit him at his home
MARCH 16: A week before the lockdown began Professor Neil Ferguson was arguing that a full lockdown was required to slow the number of deaths and said: ‘We are left with no option but to adopt this more draconian strategy’.
A report he authored for his employer Imperial College London warned that 500,000 people could die without mass self-isolation of households.
MARCH 17: He visited Downing Street to advise the Prime Minister on his findings including recommendations for a lockdown.
MARCH 18: Professor Ferguson tests positive for coronavirus
MARCH 23: Boris Johnson announces there will be a lockdown in a national TV address
MARCH 25: Prof Ferguson appears before the Commons Science and Technology Committee and warns that the NHS will be overwhelmed without a lockdown,
MARCH 30: His married lover Antonia Staats visited Prof Ferguson just after he had finished two weeks of self-isolation after testing positive for the virus. He also did a Radio 4 interview on the importance of the lockdown.
APRIL 4: Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today, he said: ‘We want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May we can substitute less intensive measures for the current lockdown we have now… I don’t think anyone wants to lift measures at the current time and risk the epidemic getting worse’
APRIL 8: Antonia made a second visit to Professor Ferguson 8 despite telling friends that her husband, an academic in his 30s, was showing symptoms of coronavirus.
APRIL 16: Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Neil Ferguson had stressed the importance of keeping to social distancing guidelines. He said at the time: ‘If we want to reopen schools, let people get back to work, then we need to keep transmission down in another manner. It is not going to go back to normal, we will have to maintain some level of social distancing – significant levels of social distancing – probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available.’
APRIL 25: The number of deaths from coronavirus could reach 100,000 in the UK by the end of this year if a gradual lockdown is implemented just to shield the elderly, Professor Neil Ferguson warned. He told UnHerd: ‘You would require a very high level of effective shielding for that to be a viable strategy. If you just achieve 80 per cent shielding – and 80 per cent reduction in infection risk in those groups – we still project that you would get more than 100,000 deaths this year from that kind of strategy. The most vulnerable people are also the people who most need care and most need interaction with the health system and are least able to be truly isolated.’
Critics including much of the British public taking to social media called him an ‘arrogant hypocrite’ for ignoring the lockdown rules he helped sculpt.
Matt Hancock admitted it was ‘just not possible’ for Prof Ferguson to continue advising the Government, and on the academic’s claims he believed he was ‘immune’ from Covid-19 Mr Hancock said: ‘I asked the Chief Medical Officer this exact question recently and said: ‘because I’ve had it do I have to do social distancing?’ and the answer was a clear ‘yes’.
The Cabinet minister praised him as a ‘very eminent’ scientist whose work has been ‘important’ in the Government’s response, but said he had to resign.
Scotland Yard said in a statement this afternoon that Prof Ferguson had accepted responsibility so they will not take further action.
‘We remain committed to our role in supporting adherence to Government guidance and have made it clear that our starting position is explaining the need to follow the regulations with anyone who is in breach in order to keep people safe and protect the NHS,’ a statement from the force said.
‘It is clear in this case that whilst this behaviour is plainly disappointing, Professor Ferguson has accepted that he made an error of judgement and has taken responsibility for that. We therefore do not intend to take any further action.’
In a resignation statement last night, the academic admitted he had ‘made an error of judgement’ but claimed he thought he was ‘immune’ to the illness – despite the World Health Organisation saying there is not enough evidence recovering from Covid-19 can protect you from reinfection.
Piers Morgan tweeted: ‘Unbelievable and shocking. So, the government is ”following the science” of scientists who don’t even follow their own science. What a shameful shambles. Professor Ferguson’s excuse is he thought he was immune from COVID-19 after having it – despite there being zero scientific proof people who’ve had it actually get immunity. And this guy’s the No1 ‘expert’ on whom the government is basing its entire coronavirus strategy?’
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Scientists like him have told us we should not be doing it, so surely in his case, it is a case of we have been doing as he says and he has been doing as he wants.
‘He has peculiarly breached his own guidelines. For an intelligent man, I find that very hard to believe. It risks undermining the Government’s lockdown message’.
Good Morning Britain medic Dr Hilary Jones said today: ‘He says it was an error of judgement but I don’t think there was any judgement at all. He was prepared to take risks but when you take risks you not only put yourself at risk but others as well. He had no choice but to resign as it was unacceptable that someone who set down rules and told the government what measures should be in place does that.’
Psychologist Emma Kenny told GMB: ‘I’m not surprised he has broken his own rules because he consistently got the figures wrong and has given us a completely false representation of what we are facing’.
The epidemiologist, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London, authored the report containing the apocalyptic prediction that coronavirus could kill 500,000 Britons – convincing the Prime Minister he had to lockdown the country from March 23.
Yet on March 30, Ms Staats, who lives with her husband Chris and their two children in a £1.9million house in south London, travelled across the capital to visit her scientist lover, who then apparently warned the country the lockdown would be necessary until June in a BBC interview when Ms Staats was allegedly in his flat.
His married lover, a Left-wing campaigner who has repeated slammed Boris Johnson and Brexit on social media, made a second visit to Prof Ferguson on April 8 despite telling friends that her husband, an academic in his 30s, was showing symptoms of coronavirus.
Ms Staats has reportedly insisted her actions to visit the scientist are not hypocritical, as she considers the households to be one because she is understood to be in an ‘open relationship’.
One friends of the couple told MailOnline: ‘I last spoke to Chris and Antonia about a week ago. They were going out for a walk with their kids, which is what they’ve been doing every day.
‘We just chatted about life in lockdown and how we’re all coping. They’re home schooling their kids and Antonia was saying how weird it all is because they had never spent so much time together. But she did say they’ve got a nice house with lots of space and are luckier than many other people.
‘She did say that the cleaner isn’t coming at the moment and that they’re dividing the household chores between them, which made me laugh because that’s a very middle class problem’.
Other neighbours described Chris Lucas as a bright, articulate man who enjoys taking part in community activities. They said that both he and Antonia are popular residents of the affluent, middle class area where houses cost in excess of £1.5 million.
One said: ‘Chris is incredibly intelligent. He speaks about six or seven languages and is an academic at SOAS.
‘Both he and Antonia are very popular around here and are a big part of our community. I always enjoy talking to them, especially Chris who is very knowledgeable about Middle Eastern affairs.
In 2017, Ms Staats was pictured protesting outside Parliament next to puppets of Theresa May and Rupert Murdoch while holding a banner that read: ‘Stop Murdoch pulling the strings.’
Ms Staats (second left) has insisted her actions to visit the scientist are not hypocritical, as she considers the households to be one
How Professor Neil Ferguson has advised the government on series of outbreaks including swine flu, foot and mouth and BSE
Professor Neil Ferguson, 51, is considered one of the country’s most eminent scientists having made his name during the foot and mouth crisis.
His controversial predictions about the number of possible deaths from coronavirus in the UK and US, as well as his regular TV and radio interviews, has also made him a household name
He was born in Cumbria but grew up in Mid Wales, earning a masters degree in Physics and a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Oxford.
He specialises in measuring the spread of infectious disease in humans and animals through mathematical modelling and has provided data on several outbreaks including the swine flu outbreak in 2009 in the UK, the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus outbreak and the ebola epidemic in Western Africa in 2016.
He is currently the director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London, and, before his resignation, a member of the government’s SAGE committee that advises ministers on tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
In March, he calculated that without a draconian national lockdown, coronavirus would claim 510,000 lives.
But crucially, he also estimated that 250,000 would die if ministers stuck with the strategy of controlling the spread with limited measures – such as home isolation for those displaying symptoms of the virus.
Prof Ferguson reckoned that if the strictest possible measures were introduced the number of deaths over a two-year period would fall to below 20,000.
In hindsight that estimate was ambitious – in less than three months Britain’s death toll has soared to more than 32,000. But it was enough to persuade Mr Johnson to impose the most drastic peacetime measures ever seen.
Prof Ferguson has been a regular presence on television and on the radio throughout the crisis. But he has rejected the ‘Professor Lockdown’ nickname used by many.
In one interview, on the Andrew Marr show last month, he insisted it was up to ministers to make the decisions. ‘We provide scientific evidence along with a lot of other scientific groups across the country which fed into government policy,’ he said.
‘But we did not determine that policy, there are a number of balancing acts involved in doing that.’ He also points out that he leads one of at least five modelling teams who had come to similar conclusions in March.
But as a long-term member of the Government’s SAGE scientific advisory committee – and with a high-profile media presence – his voice is one that will have been heard louder than most. On March 18 he fell victim to the virus himself. Two days previously he stood next to Health Secretary Matt Hancock at a Press conference.
Mr Hancock learned he had the virus a few days later. Mr Johnson and Chris Whitty, the chief medical advisor, developed symptoms the same day. Colleagues describe the 51-year-old as an energetic workaholic who has little need for sleep.
Prof Ferguson rose to prominence during the 2001 foot and mouth crisis. His research, carried out with mentor Professor Roy Anderson, helped persuade Tony Blair’s government to carry out a devastating cull of animals, and saw him awarded an OBE.His work suggested that animals to be culled should include not only those found to be infected with the virus but also those on adjacent farms.
A decade later another highly critical report said the Government ordered the destruction of millions of animals because of ‘severely flawed’ modelling.
In 2002, Prof Ferguson published a report on the BSE crisis, years after the peak of the episode.He speculated that BSE in cows and sheep could cause up to 150,000 human deaths – to date fewer than 200 have died. He has since been involved in modelling numbers during the SARS, bird flu, ebola and Zika epidemics, with varying accuracy. He stands by his work – pointing out that each calculation has come with a ‘range’ of possible eventualities.
‘Whenever we have any kind of community celebration they always take part along with their kids. They are a great family.’
Another neighbour said: ‘I’ve known Chris and his family for five years they are really nice, helpful people.
‘Chris is really intelligent and successful but he’s really down to earth, as is Antonia, who is also incredibly bright. I’ m not interested in the kind of relationship they had, that’s nobody’s business.
‘She’s a lovely person, really kind hearted and cares about making the world a better place. They’re a wonderful family.’
The scientist has quit his role on the secretive SAGE committee of experts advising the Prime Minister but Imperial College London appears to be standing by him and said today that Prof Ferguson ‘continues to focus on his important research’.
The epidemiologist said in a statement: ’I accept I made an error of judgment and took the wrong course of action. I have therefore stepped back from my involvement in Sage [the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies].
‘I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus, and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.
‘I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic. The Government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us.’
Neighbours at Prof Ferguson’s former marital home in Oxford were furious at his behaviour.
He and his wife Kim, who is involved with the residents’ association, are said to be estranged.
Their home, set on a private cul-de-sac next to a pond, was part of a luxury horseshoe-style development completed in 2001.
One elderly resident who did not want to be named said: ‘I feel incredibly sorry for his wife and child. They are totally blameless and humiliated I would think. I find it very sad that he has done this.’
Another resident sitting in the sunshine near to Prof Ferguson’s home, said: ‘My sympathies are with his wife. She has put a message on our lockdown Whatsapp group saying she does not want to talk about it’.
Another man, out for a stroll with his wife, said: ‘He’s not been around for weeks. I don’t think he actually lives here anymore. I think he should have taken a leaf out of his neighbours’ books. We have been observing the lockdown like everyone else. I just think he must have thought it was no risk because he’d already had it.’
Security Minister James Brokenshire said Prof Ferguson had ‘made the right decision’ in resigning from Sage.
He told Sky News: ‘Professor Ferguson, I think, has obviously made his statement underlining that there’s no excuse for not following the social distancing rules, and I think he’s made the right decision here.
‘The work of Sage continues and obviously we will continue to be informed by that group and the experts that provide that support to the Government.’
Asked whether Prof Ferguson’s comments about immunity – in which he stated that he believed he was immune after contracting Covid-19 – should be taken seriously, Mr Brokenshire said it is ‘too early’ to reach conclusions.
Ms Staats visited Prof Ferguson just after he had finished two weeks of self-isolation after testing positive for the virus.
The visits came despite the government warning couples that they would either have to move in with each other or face staying apart during the coronavirus lockdown.
He told the BBC Today Programme in mid-April, after he had seen his lover: ‘If we want to reopen schools, let people get back to work then we need to keep transmissions down in another manner. It’s not going to be going back to normal, we will have to maintain some level of social distancing, significant level of social distancing probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available’.
It was suggested the restrictions are an opportunity to ‘test relationships’ and Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, said: ‘If the two halves of a couple are currently in separate households, ideally they should stay in those households.
‘The alternative might be that, for quite a significant period going forwards, they should test the strength of their relationship and decide whether one wishes to be permanently resident in another household.’
The first of Ms Staat’s visits to Prof Ferguson was on Monday March 30, a week into coronavirus lockdown. He appeared on the BBC Today programme at 7.50am that day, with Ms Staats thought to be at the house at the time.
The visit coincided with a public warning by Prof Ferguson that the lockdown would remain until at least June.
Ms Staats, who is a left-wing campaigner, made a second visit to Prof Ferguson on April 8, despite reportedly telling friends that she suspected her own husband, an academic in his 30s, had symptoms of coronavirus.
She and her husband Chris met while studying at SOAS in London and live in a £1.9 million home with their two children and are understood to be in an ‘open relationship’.
Ms Staats grew up in Isny, south Germany, went to university in Berlin and came to London in 2003, earning a masters in Asian Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, where her husband works.
She has worked for Avaaz, a US-based online network which promotes activism on issues like climate change.
Professor Neil Ferguson (left on April 5) warned the number of deaths from coronavirus in the UK could reach 500,000 if lockdown wasn’t implemented – yet he was still happy to spend the night with Antonia Staats, who reportedly told friends that she suspected her own husband, an academic in his 30s, had symptoms of coronavirus