Born: September 26, 1938;

Died: April 9, 2021.

DR Ian Gibson, who has died at the age of 82 from pancreatic cancer, was that rarity among MPs – an acknowledged expert in science and medicine who embarked on a Parliamentary career because he believed that, through politics, he could do good for a greater number.

Dr Gibson was born in Dumfries, but his adopted city was Norwich where he was elected for its North constituency in 1997 at the age of 58. A man very much of his own opinions, he won the chairmanship of the Commons Select Committee on science and technology in 2001, despite opposition from the Labour whips.

He had worked for 32 years at the University of East Anglia, becoming Dean of the School of Biological Sciences immediately prior to being elected as an MP.

When he spoke on issues of which he had deep knowledge, he commanded respect which crossed party divides. Within the Labour Party, he was firmly on the left and felt free to vote against the party line as his principles demanded without being caught up in sectarian or divisive politics.

He was one of the first MPs to insist there was medical evidence to support the existence of Gulf War Syndrome, a condition suffered by military troops who had served in the first Gulf war of 1991.

Later, he played an intriguing personal part in the run-up to the Iraq war, which only emerged years later in an interview with his local newspaper.

Dr Gibson had supervised the PhD of Rihab Taha, a biochemist who studied plant toxins in Norwich between 1980 and 1984, before heading the Iraqi research and development programme on biological and chemical weapons. To the Western media, she became “Dr Germ”.

He recalled being flown out by the British security services in January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq, to meet her.

“Apart from the pleasantries, there was only one question discussed,” he said. “I did say to her, ‘When did you learn to do experiments with biological warfare organisms?’ She said, ‘Well, I’ve been away from the UEA a long time’ ... She said there were no WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. She said they had them years ago and destroyed them. I believed her.”

Ian Gibson was the son of William, a clerk, and his wife, Winifred (née Kerr). He was educated at Dumfries Academy and the University of Edinburgh, where he was awarded a BSc and a PhD in genetics. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University and at the University of Washington before joining UEA.

His first political activism was through the trade union movement to achieve better conditions for technicians at the university.

He became an executive member of what was then the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs and joined Labour in 1983. He contested Norwich North in the 1992 General Election, achieving a huge swing but losing by 225 votes.

On the Tony Blair /New Labour tide of 1997, he won by almost 10,000 votes and held the seat comfortably thereafter.

An honorary fellow of the British Science Association and the Wellcome Trust, he won the Royal Society of Chemistry Parliamentary award in 2004 and was also named Backbencher of the Year by the House magazine – all good indicators of the respect in which he was held, beyond his own immediate political circles.

Dr Gibson had been a good amateur footballer and would later “manage” the all-party Parliamentary team. However, his abiding involvement with the game was as a supporter of Norwich City.

One legacy of this relationship is a laboratory at UEA dedicated to the memory of Francesca Gunn and to finding new treatments for childhood leukaemia. She was the two-year-old daughter of Bryan Gunn, the Caithness-born Norwich City goalkeeper.

In one of the many local tributes to Dr Gibson, Bryan Gunn described him as “an energetic politician for Norwich and Norfolk, a scientist who inspired us to fund the Francesca Gunn laboratory at UAE, and a Norwich City fan”.

Ian Gibson’s political career ended when he became an unlikely and unmerited victim of the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009.

Like all out-of-London MPs, he had claimed expenses for a flat in London, where his daughter was living rent-free.

It was the kind of arrangement that went entirely unremarked upon until the feeding frenzy arose out of far more obvious abuses.

When Labour’s national executive committee, anxious not to be on the wrong side of public outrage, barred him from standing at a future election, he resigned immediately and forced a by-election.

In his absence, the Labour vote collapsed and the seat has been Tory-held ever since.

In terms of public and academic esteem, the episode did Dr Gibson no harm at all.

He returned to lecturing, became a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was appointed to various medical and scientific roles, and remained immersed in the community affairs of Norwich.

In 1977, Ian Gibson married Elizabeth Lubbock, a nurse who became a sister at West Norwich hospital.

He is survived by her and their two daughters, a third having predeceased him.