By Martin Walker
Around 70 people gathered in the Virginia Woolf Suite at the Hotel Russell in London for the launch of the second volume of the 'parents voice books', Silenced Witnesses: The Parents Story. The Hotel Russell is probably one of the most beautiful hotels in London, and of course the Virginia Woolf suite was ideal considering the literary aspirations of the parents authors.
There are occasions when things go continuously wrong in projects like book writing and publishing. Having been involved in editing, publishing and introducing both volumes of Silenced Witnesses with Carol Stott, I had become aware, with this latest volume at least, that up until the very last minute things can go awry. Just as the books arrived in London from the printers, the company that had been set up to distribute them, collapsed leaving me just before Christmas owing a large amount of money - a loan having been part of the distribution deal - and the books marooned; unable to even send out copies to the contributing authors. These dispiriting circumstances continued right up to the day of the launch when 2,000 flyers and book order forms, instead of arriving in London to be brought to the venue, ended up in France!
Right up to the start of the launch, I had only a glimmer of hope that everything would go well. However, it turned out be an event to remember and my anxieties, were quickly dissipated when it became clear half an hour before the start of the launch that the sixty chairs available would not be enough to seat everyone.
This is the second volume of Silenced Witnesses from Slingshot Publications, and the object of the books is evident, to give a clear voice to parents of vaccine damaged children, so that whether we win or lose the GMC battle or in the future when we win the scientific and the political arguments about vaccine damage, the parents' voices have been recorded.
When the proceedings began, it was as if the gathering was a warm-up for Thursday's day of gatherings and demonstrations that will accompany the verdicts following the two and a half year trial of Dr Wakefield, Professor Murch and Professor Walker-Smith.
I opened the launch by introducing the book and then commenting on something that has frequently concerned the parents over the last two and a half years. The fact that the parents of the Lancet paper children were not brought to give evidence about the inflammatory Bowel Disease affecting their children.
"The GMC prosecution has said that on the basis of the Lancet paper, Dr Wakefield and the other two doctors, carried out research on 12 children, without ethical committee approval, that they used invasive procedures for the purpose of experiment, that they carried out research without parental approval. That they experimented on children for the purpose of aiding claimant's cases against the pharmaceutical companies, but most seriously of all, the prosecution has argued that the children who came to the Royal Free were not ill, that they were autistic but did not have Inflammatory Bowel Disease; this has been the absolute core of their case"
"Anyone could see clearly that if they had a genuine case, to show that the children were not ill and that they were subjected to aggressive procedures without ethical approval and without parental consent, they were bound to call the parents to give evidence. They didn't because the parents would have told the hearing that most of the children suffered the most terrible bowel disease followed by regressive autism. So had the prosecution called the parents from day one the GMC case would have collapsed."
In order to show that the campaign against vaccine damaged children and others seeking claims for iatrogenic damage in Britain had been going on for forty years now, from the time that the drug companies were challenged over Thalidomide, I read out something that I had written recently.
" In the Loveday case for example, which ended in the late eighties the parents of Susan Loveday sued their GP who had given Susan Loveday the whooping cough vaccination fifteen years earlier. The Wellcome Foundation joined this action, on the side of the GP, despite not being named in it and were able to add the support of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in Britain to the defence."
"Expert evidence for the claimants, was given amongst others by Dr John Wilson a consultant whose case review paper cited 24 children, at trial, the defence claimed that none of the children said to be damaged in this case review paper stood up to scrutiny, some did not exist, the illnesses of others were not associated in any way with a vaccine and a large number of them had 'been proved' to be damage caused by quite other factors or illnesses."
"One of the expert witnesses called was Dr John Stephenson, a consultant paediatrician and neurologist at Glasgow's Royal Hospital for Sick Children, he claimed in his evidence that 'the suggestion that whooping cough vaccine causes brain damage in children is based more on 'mythology than science'. According to Stephenson, any evidence that might once have existed suggesting a possible causal link had 'evaporated'. In his view any temporal connection between vaccination and damage was purely coincidental. This was the vacuum of science into which that the vaccine conundrum was sliding."
"I drew parallels between this case and the one against Dr Wakefield and pointed out that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the strategy of the pharmaceutical companies was to dismiss evidence on behalf of the children from the parents, having done this, the validity of the claimants analysis of the child's illness and its cause could be disputed. It was mainly done by attacking the credibility and reputation of any doctor or medical research worker who had recorded cases on which to base opinions. It was however, never sufficient to dispute the science and individual scientists became the subject of planned personal attacks. What was happening to Dr Wakefield is part of a continuum in which industrial science and the multinationals are taking control not only of medicine but also of the legal process and ordinary citizens are unable to get satisfaction in the courts."
After I introduced the launch, some of the parents authors spoek about their cases and the experience of writing. In the typically modest style of British parents, a number of them had commented, throughout the afternoon, on the opening chapter of Volume II, by Barbara Loe Fisher. How I wished that Barbara could have been there in the Hotel Russell, not just so that the UK parents could have joined hands with the US parents, but so that we could all have heard the views and had the support of this invigorating campaigning woman. Despite the high quality of all the chapters, Barbara's chapter stands out, because like Rosemary Fox's introductory chapter in the first volume, Barbara's chapter gives an intimate historical portrait of the growth of a movement.
When the parent authors spoke about their chapters, it became very clear that as well as being strategically useful the two volumes had provided a therapeutic role in their personal and family life. As Deborah Heather, whose chapter rings with the clear voice of authority, said after the launch; " It is strange isn't it that you can talk to people till the cows come home about your experiences but there is something very different when it is laid out in print. It is this reaction that we want, if after reading the book, just one doctor stands up and begins treating one child then I personally will feel my work has been done."
Two of the parents, who had contributed chapters to the first volume, David Thrower and Allison Edwards, spoke about the value of the books. Having accompanied some of the authors, as editor, throughout some of their journey, I obviously must agree with Allison Edwards, the Chair of Cry Shame when she said, "I think the second volume is an absolute cracker of a book, all of the chapters are compelling reading "straight from the heart".
The first printing of volume II is accompanied by Alan Golding's brilliant hour long DVD, titled 'Selective Hearing: Brian Deer and the GMC'. And at the same time as the launch, the Times was publishing Deer's latest article about the GMC trial that has now dragged on for two and a half years and for which the verdict is expected this Thursday. In his article Deer posed as the parents saviour, disguising himself as a victims' campaigner and defender of what he termed 'the Lancet 12'; a complete travesty. Had Deer dared to show his face at the launch, unseemly as the outcome might have been, there would have been no doubt about who had spoken for the parents from the first and who the parents still supported from the depths of their hearts.
Dr Wakefield, attending the launch with his wife Carmel, gave an impromptu and modest speech in which he repeated a number of times, the fact that whatever the verdict of the GMC, this battle was not about him but about science and the terrible plight of the parents and their children. Everyone was, however, aware that this is only half true, without Andrew Wakefield, the science, the data, the information about MMR, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and regressive autism, would have been buried by governments and drug companies, perhaps for ever.
I was left at the end of the launch, feeling that I it had been such a full and busy occasion that I hadn't had the opportunity to speak to so many people who I had not seen for some time. Most of all, I didn't really get a chance to speak to the parents whose project this was. Instead I was left to round off the launch with the correction of another disgusting Deerism. In a recent addition to his site there is a fulsome explanation of how I had conned parents out of money for self-published books and lined my pockets with money made from Dr Wakefield's vested interests; more bizarre unchecked accusations. I reflected for a moment on the wall of lies that Dr Wakefield, the parents, the campaigners and ultimately the children have had to fight.
I took a moment at the end of the launch to thank all those who went unnamed in the production of the book, including it's typographical designer and cover designer and all those who have anonymously donated money to the project. I had to make the point however, that the project still has a debt outstanding of around £2,000 to the books printers.
All enquiries about volumes I and II of Silenced Witnesses should be made to www.slingshotpublications.com, after referring to the ad for the book that is on the home page of this site. And if there is a US publisher out there for both these volumes, I and the Bitish parents would love to hear from them.