Taxpayers covered a £15,000 bill after MP Michelle Donelan falsely accused an academic of supporting Hamas, her department has admitted.

The Chippenham MP and Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology called for an investigation into Prof Kate Sang of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, in October last year after she accused her of sharing extremist content online.

Donelan withdrew her comments on Tuesday, March 5, saying she fully accepted Prof Sang was "not an extremist, a supporter of Hamas or other proscribed organisation."

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology had previously disclosed that a “nominal” sum had been paid, but on Wednesday, March 6, it was revealed the total cost was £15,000.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have called for the MP to pay the bill for the damages and legal costs herself.

Two Liberal Democrat prospective party candidates (PPC) in Wiltshire have demanded a public inquiry into the use of taxpayers’ money.

They are also calling for the Chippenham MP to resign.

Brian Mathew, PPC for Melksham and Devizes, the new constituency which Ms Donelan will contest in the next election said: “There should now be a Cabinet Office inquiry to find out exactly what happened and how much public money was spent.

“These things should be in the open and not covered up.

“We want to know why a Cabinet Minister made a cheap political point on Twitter based on a press release she had not checked out.

“Frankly, I thought Michelle Donelan was above this kind of thing.

“Now the taxpayer is paying the price.” 

Sarah Gibson, PPC for Chippenham, said: “Michelle Donelan must resign from her post as Science Secretary because this incident will have irretrievably damaged her credibility in the academic community.

“Any scientist or technologist she deals with now will see her as the minister who not only defamed two academics but did so without properly examining the evidence. 

“She has lost authority in the world in which she works and must step down.”

Meanwhile, the Reform UK party PPC for Melksham and Devizes, Malcolm Cupis, said he was “uncomfortable” with the commentary surrounding the issue.

Although he described the cost being passed to the taxpayer as “clearly completely wrong”, he does not think the MP should have to resign.

He said: “I think those demanding that Michelle Donelan resign from her job are participating in something quite sinister that we need to remove from politics and wider society.

“The idea that you can be cancelled for speaking freely, even if what you say is incorrect, hurtful and frankly stupid.”

A spokesperson for Ms Donelan said: "There is an established precedent under multiple administrations that Ministers are provided with legal support and representation where matters relate to their conduct and responsibilities as a Minister, as was the case here.

"The Secretary of State received the appropriate advice from relevant officials at all times.

"A sum of £15,000 was paid without admitting any liability.

"This approach is intended to reduce the overall costs to the taxpayer that could result from protracted legal action, no matter what the result would have been."