The sordid story of the geology professor, the fracking company, the old Etonian and the Tory Party fundraiser

When retired geophysics professor Dr David Smythe wrote a highly technical academic paper critical of fracking processes, he expected the usual questioning from academic colleagues that goes with peer reviewed academic publications.

What he didn’t expect was to see his academic reputation smeared in two national newspapers.

The Telegraph and the Daily Mail – not publications normally interested in micrite layers of subsurface geology – both ran bizarre smear stories claiming Smythe had ‘fabricated’ his qualifications.

The ‘fabrications’ boiled down to the non-story that on his retirement, Smythe had not renewed his subscriptions to membership of the Geological Society.

Dr Smythe was even more surprised to see a colleague from his alma mater Glasgow University – a prof Paul Younger –  widely quoted in the newspaper articles, fiercely criticising him for supposedly ‘lying’ about his academic credentials and calling him a “fraud”.

Undeterred, in January this year, Smythe continued his research into fracking and went on to produce another highly technical academic publication which was also critical of fracking processes.

This time the reaction was different but just as ferocious.

Without warning or explanation, Glasgow University suddenly blocked Smythe’s online access to the banks of data he needed for further research, after 17 years of trouble-free access.

It is a devastating and unprecedented move to make against an academic involved in research – effectively barring him from producing any more studies into fracking.

Internal university emails showed the person responsible for the move to bar Smythe from his research was also a prof Paul Younger – in his position as Rankine Chair of Energy Engineering at Glasgow University.

So who is Professor Paul Younger?

Unfortunately for Dr Smythe, Younger doesn’t just have an academic interest in fracking processes.

He also happens to be on the very lucrative payroll of a company called Cluff Geothermal – an energy company highly involved in fracking.

In fact, Younger has not only received grants from at least two major fracking companies, he is also listed as a director of Cluff.

But even an average energy company – as rich as it might be – would not normally have the clout to persuade two national newspapers to run baseless smear stories against a respected academic.

Cluff Geothermal, however, is not just any gas and oil exploration company.

Cluff was founded by a very influential Tory Party fundraiser and former close friend of Margaret Thatcher – an oil executive called Algy Cluff.

And Cluff’s co-founder is a young man called George Percy.

cluff younger

What the Cluff website doesn’t say is that Percy is in fact Earl George Dominic Percy – an old Etonian and close friend of the royal family and heir to the Duke of Northumberland estate. Here he is with Prince William and pals:percy and william

So it seems, Smythe has made some extremely powerful enemies in very, very high places indeed – and is now paying dearly for it.

But it is extraordinary that in today’s Britain, academic research can be silenced simply because the results may be inconvenient to the business interests of aristocrats, the rich or the powerful.


You can contribute to David Smythe’s legal fight to regain access to data so he can continue his research here.

And his personal website can be seen here.