An "independent" group of scientists that regularly criticises the Government for not introducing tougher Covid-19 restrictions is being run by a body which boasted last week that it is "good at creating havoc" and was founded by an activist journalist accused of peddling conspiracy theories about Brexit, The Telegraph can disclose.
The Citizens, founded by Carole Cadwalladr, describes itself as "founders and producers" of Independent Sage, a committee of academics that claims to "provide independent scientific advice".
The Citizens is also currently bringing legal action over ministers’ use of apps such as WhatsApp to communicate about official business, and claims to be gathering evidence of "the privatisation of the NHS".
Writing in the body’s newsletter, Ms Cadwalladr states that its "mission is impact journalism" and says that it has "been running a handful of experimental projects in stealth mode", including Independent Sage.
The group’s role was highlighted by an NHS doctor who said there was "something quite disingenuous about a supposedly independent scientific group being formed by what appears to be a political organisation".
Independent Sage claimed to have been founded because of a lack of "openness and transparency" by the official Sage committee of government advisors.
Its members regularly criticise the Government’s approach to Covid-19, including decisions to ease lockdown restrictions.
But the doctor suggested that Independent Sage had lacked transparency by failing to fully declare the role of The Citizens.
"If you want to lobby against a government, fine," the doctor said. "But don’t also claim to be an objective, independent voice."
Ms Cadwalladr initially founded The Citizens in 2019 to "support further investigation" into alleged offences committed during the Brexit campaign – none of which have been proven, despite police investigations which were later dropped.
It was financed using money provided by a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for her investigations into pro-Brexit figures, including Arron Banks, the co-founder of the unofficial Leave.EU campaign, who is suing Ms Cadwalladr for libel.
Ms Cadwalladr, who carried out investigations into the role of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm, in the Brexit campaign, has previously apologised for falsely claiming that Mr Banks had been found to have broken the law.
She has been labelled a conspiracy theorist over her claims that Russia influenced the 2016 referendum.
In recent weeks, Ms Cadwalldr updated her Twitter profile to describe herself as co-founder of The Citizens, which she bills as the "parent" of Independent Sage.
Independent Sage’s website simply states that The Citizen organises a "small support team" to help with "public events and media activities".
‘We are already good at creating havoc’
The Citizens’ Twitter biography states: "Public service journalism. Founders & producers of @independentSAGE & @FBOversight."
The Real Facebook Oversight Board is another panel set up by The Citizens. On Tuesday, The Citizens tweeted: "We are a new and still tiny non-profit organisation but we are already good at creating havoc."
The tweet was deleted after being highlighted by the NHS doctor.
Earlier, in a newsletter on May 17, Ms Cadwalladr wrote of The Citizens: "Our mission is impact journalism and for the last 12 months, we’ve been running a handful of experimental projects in stealth mode: challenging the government’s claim to be ‘following the science’ in the pandemic, launching an emergency intervention against Facebook ahead of the US election, organising MPs to take the government to court and investigating the awarding of government contracts to high-profile Conservative donors."
The phrase "challenging the government’s claim to be ‘following the science’" contained a "hyperlink" to the Independent Sage website and the post was signed off "Carole x".
Independent Sage was launched in May 2019 by Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser, who said the panel of 12 experts would provide "robust, unbiased advice", with meetings broadcast live online.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Sir David said: "Science is fundamentally a system based on peer review. When it comes to scientific advice of any kind, transparency is essential."
It later transpired that the panel included a series of academics linked to Labour, a race adviser who had described Boris Johnson’s administration as a "far-right Conservative government" and the author of a book which claims that the NHS is being privatised by stealth.
Yesterday Ms Cadwalladr said the links between Independent Sage and The Citizens had been "on the organisation’s website since Day 1."
"I’m incredibly proud of what the Citizens has done to support the work of the scientists on Independent Sage & the impact it has had," she tweeted.
A spokesman for Independent Sage said the body had nothing to add to Ms Cadwalladr’s remarks.