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GMC Challenged On MMR Inquiry Chief's Vaccine Firm Links

London, England & Scotland/29 May 2007/JWock/   The Chairman of the General Medical Council's inquiry into MMR vaccine doctor Andrew Wakefield, Professor Dennis McDevitt, is being challenged over undisclosed personal interests.  On 11th July this year an unprecedented 14 week GMC hearing chaired by Professor McDevitt was due to commence into charges against Dr Andrew Wakefieldof the Royal Free Hospital relating to the controversial vaccine.  However, previously secret government minutes reveal Professor McDevitt was himself a member of a 1988 government safety panel  which approved Pluserix MMR as safe for vaccine manufacturer Smith Kline & French Laboratories (see first .pdf attached).  Pluserix MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine was introduced in 1988 but the Government was forced to withdraw it in November 1992 after large numbers children suffered suspected adverse vaccine reactions.

This development follows the recent discovery that High Court Judge Sir Nigel Davis, who in a secret hearing rejected the MMR childrens' appeals against withdrawal of legal (see second .pdf attached), failed to disclose his brother was main board director of the MMR vaccine manufacturer's parent company GlaxoSmithKline (more below).

The GMC hearing against Dr Wakefield relates to events in 1998, seven years after legal investigations into the MMR childrens' ailments first started.  Dr Wakefield angered MMR vaccination proponents and created a furore in 1998, when he suggested offering single vaccines alongside MMR - albeit that is current official Conservative party policy.

Nearly 2000 children alleged to be suffering from autism, deafness, bowel disorders and other serious injuries caused by the vaccine filed legal claims against manufacturer Smith Kline & French Laboratories Ltd.  Investigations into the claims started in 1991 when applications for legal aid were first being filed.  The vaccine was given to 85% of MMR vaccinated children between 1988 and 1992.  Labour MP Jack Ashley said at the time of the 1992 withdrawal that correspondence with Minister Virginia Bottomley MP confirmed government knew of the problems in March 1991, some 18 months earlier.

The GMC's inquiry into Dr Wakefield is said to include conflicts of interest alleged by the Sunday Times in 2004.  Dr Wakefield was retained as an expert witness in the legal claims.  It was alleged Dr Wakefield failed to disclose payments made by lawyers to the Royal Free when his team published a paper in the Lancet medical journal concerning medical investigations into the children's illnesses.  Final charges have yet to be published.   GMC hearings are often less than a day and usually no more than two or three days. 

Other safety panel members who approved the vaccine included controversial paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow, Government vaccination supremo Dr David Salisbury, Dr Elizabeth Miller of the Health Protection Agency, and Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation member and Chairman Professor Sir David Hull.

Dr Miller is also an expert witness for the Glaxo companies defending the children's claims.  She has stated "there can be no conflict of interest when acting as an expert for the courts, because the duty to the courts overrides any other obligation, including to the person from whom the expert receives the instruction or by whom they are paid ".   Dr Miller has also published in The Lancet without disclosing funding from drug companies and still without complaint from the Editor.  Wakefield disclosed his status as an expert witness funded by legal aid in a letter to the Lancet in 1998 - six years earlier so this was known to The Lancet.

Barrister Robert Hantusch in a letter to the Times of 24 February 2004 said "The courts do not consider that the engagement of someone to act as an expert witness in litigation has the effect that that person is then biased. Indeed, if this were the legal position, no paid professional could ever at any time give evidence to a court "
A challenge is also being mounted against the withdrawal of the childrens' legal funding in 2004 concerning High Court Judge Sir Nigel Davis failure to disclose his brother was main board director of the MMR vaccine manufacturer's parent company GlaxoSmithKline plc and Chief Executive of the Lancet medical journal.  Judge Davis' brother is Sir Crispin Davis (57).

Furious parents who filed complaints with MPs and the Office for Judicial Complaints, which investigates the conduct of judges and coroners are told to expect a response this week..

Judge Davis' spokesman Peter Farr of the Judicial Communications Office said "The possibility of any conflict of interest arising from his brother's position did not occur to him.  If he was wrong, any possible remedy must be sought from the Court of Appeal.".

Multinational drugs giant GlaxoSmith Kline appointed Sir Crispin Davis as non executive director 1 July 2003.  Three months later the Legal Services Commission were due to decide on the MMR childrens' funding and made the contested decision on 4th October 2003.  Five months later Judge Davis rejected appeals against the LSC's decision.  The reasons remain secret.  Parent Ann Hewitt claims " We have been dumped. Legal advice says Thomas has a strong case, but legal aid was mysteriously taken away."  However, parent Marion Wickens, who also claims her severely injured 13-year-old daughter's legal case was strong, said in a later open court hearing that a senior LSC official admitted the decision to stop Legal Aid " came from the government" (see third .pdf attached).

Sir Crispin Davis is unlikely to be a stranger to controversy over the MMR vaccine.  He is Chief Executive of the owners of the "The Lancet" medical journal.  In 1998 The Lancet published the now controversial study by Dr Andrew Wakefield's Royal Free Hospital London research team into links between autism and the MMR vaccine. Wakefield sparked a furore with the government later to involve Prime Minister Tony Blair when at a March 1998 press conference he suggested single measles jabs be made available alongside MMR. 

Six years after the publication of the Lancet paper, in February 2004 and only a week before Judge Nigel Davis's rejection of the childrens' funding appeal, The Lancet Editor, Richard Horton disclaimed the Royal Free paper, claiming Wakefield had failed to disclose a conflict of interest over funding by the Legal Services Commission.  Premier Blair was quoted at the time " There's absolutely no evidence to support this link between MMR and autism".  Horton expressed public regret for publishing the Royal Free paper and Sir Crispin Davis was knighted three months later.

Parent John Stone comments "A major unexplained mystery is why the issue of what measles vaccine was given to children should have been so political. There was, after all, a perfectly acceptable, cheaper and more effective measles vaccine then available. "

Current Conservative Shadow Health Minister Andrew Murrison says "The last time we commented on this we said that MMR would be routinely recommended (the CMO believes it to be safe) but if refused the single jab would be available. We haven't changed that position. "

Today the issue remains mired in confusion and contradictions. Parent Elaine Butler demands an inquiry "We believe the evidence shows very clearly that our children were damaged by this vaccine.  If it was so important to the government, then they should have ensured the case went to trial with full funding so everyone could see the evidence in open court.  The additional amount that would cost compared to all the money spent by the government and NHS on attacking Wakefield and promoting MMR is trivial And the irony is, we now learn that 2007 is the year the chance of anyone catching measles and dying became vanishingly small.  People in the UK are 60 times more likely to be hit by lightning than killed by measles and the official government figures show that disparity will continue to increase over time ". 


For the curious politics of MMR see - Top doctor wades into MMR debate BBC - Monday, 23 February 2004

Some of the MPs known contacted by parents include:-
Norman Baker
Stewart Jackson, Peterborough,
Shona Robinson (SNP health minister with autistic daughter)
Sir Robert Smith, Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine
Lynne Featherstone
Alex Salmond
Chris Mullin

For in-depth analysis of the controversy see:-
"MMR - SCIENCE AND FICTION": the Richard Horton story BMJ John Stone 24 Sep 2004
"MMR - SCIENCE AND FICTION": the Richard Horton story II BMJ John Stone 26 Sep 2004
"MMR - SCIENCE AND FICTION": the Richard Horton story III BMJ John Stone 30 Sep 2004
"MMR - SCIENCE AND FICTION": the Richard Horton story IV BMJ John Stone 1 Oct 2004
"MMR - SCIENCE AND FICTION": the Richard Horton story V BMJ John Stone 1 Oct 2004
"MMR - SCIENCE AND FICTION": the Richard Horton story VI BMJ John Stone 3 Oct 2004

========== Contact information
Peter Farr
Judicial Communications Office
Thomas More Bldg 11.07
Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London WC2A 2LL