MMR mum makes legal history

03 January 2010

A mum's 17-year compensation battle for her severely disabled son is set to make legal history.

Jackie Fletcher has become the first person in the UK to be granted a form of legal aid to help take a claim to a Vaccine Damage Payment Unit tribunal.

But while the successful application for "exceptional funding" sets an important precedent, a subsequent victory would have more symbolic and political significance for the Golborne family than anything financial.

The chance of a multi-million-pound pay-out from the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine they claim ruined toddler Robert's health ended in farce in 2007 when the Fletchers discovered that their legal team had been pursuing the wrong drug company for 10 years.

By the time the cock-up was spotted it had been initially caused by a nurse innocently writing a wrong number on the infant's medical notes but should have been picked up by the lawyers soon after Jackie and husband John had been "timed out" to bring a lawsuit against the real manufacturers, Merck.

The only option then left to them was to take Robert's case back to the tribunal which had dismissed the case out of hand more than a decade earlier.

And while the majority of the medical establishment remains set against links between the measles, mumps and rubella jab and conditions such as autism and Crohn's disease, the Fletchers now have the backing of an eminent American scientist who will testify for them.

Consultant paediatric neurologist Dr Marcel Kingsbourne has already successfully pleaded the case for vaccine-damaged children in the US and written a paper saying that he believes Robert's epilepsy was caused by the measles part of the vaccine he was given at 10 months.

Robert turned 18 in October, but Jackie says that unlike his two older brothers, this event did not see him, in a real sense, become a man.
Rather she still has a child of 14 months who has only a few words in his vocabulary and needs 24-hour care.

The epilepsy, which has never been brought under control and causes around a dozen fits a week, has left him with neurological problems, a weakness in his left side which means he is now confined to a wheelchair, immune deficiencies, autistic traits and, more recently, an inflamed oesophagus.

Jackie, who formed the national pressure group Jabs to highlight the alleged serious side-effects of the MMR inoculation, said she was hoping that the London tribunal next year would finally give the family some kind of positive result.

She said: "What we really wanted to do was take on the manufacturer of the vaccine whom we blame, but because our solicitors messed up, that opportunity has gone.

"What is left to us is to go to the Vaccine Damage Payment Unit and we were delighted that our present solicitor has set a precedent by getting exceptional funding.

"This is a limited amount which will pay for the solicitor, a barrister and for Dr Kinsbourne to give evidence via either audio or video link from America.

"Never before has this funding been granted by the Legal Services Commission for a vaccine damage case so it is as important for other people's fight for justice as it is ours."