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An Elaborate Fraud, Part 2: In Which a Murdoch Newspaper’s Deceptive Tactics Infect the British Medical Journal

  Blanket Lancet
One of the Lancet 12 children on a doctor visit not long after the BMJ articles were published in January.

By Dan Olmsted

As she sat down to write the Sunday Times of London on Saturday, November 29, 2003, Rosemary Kessick was beside herself. The day before, a reporter for the paper named Brian Lawrence had come to her home to interview her – and kept at it, relentlessly, for six straight hours. It was more like an inquisition than an interview. Everything she said about the regression of her severely autistic son – what happened, when it happened, why she thought it was connected to the measles-mumps-rubella shot he had received -- was questioned as though she were a defendant in a courtroom.

Her son’s autism had manifested 13 years earlier, in 1990, and it still “traumatized and blighted” the family, but Brian Lawrence expected her to remember it like it were yesterday and describe it all with clarity; any uncertainty or hesitation seemed to immediately become a discrepancy. She had no confidence in what the reporter was going to write. She thought he might suggest she was, at best, an unreliable witness to her own child’s mental and physical disintegration, or, at worst, that she wasn’t telling the truth.

As she began typing, she did not know it was “Brian Lawrence” who was not telling the truth – a fact that became clear a few days later, when she found a picture online of Brian Deer, a journalist notoriously hostile to people who claimed that vaccines had injured their children. That was the man who sat in her living room, sneering and displaying “no human qualities of compassion.”

On this day, the day after the inquisition, all she knew is that she didn’t like the way she had been treated, not at all, and that is what she began typing to Brian Deer’s boss, John Witherow (who remains editor of the Sunday Times to this day).

 It is worth reading the letter, and the subsequent correspondence, in order and in toto (with only a few irrelevant details omitted), because the road it leads to is ultimately not the Sunday Times, but the British Medical Journal. The BMJ quoted from that interview this January – seven years after “Brian Lawrence” arrived at her door, 20 years after the devastating events it described – as proof of what the BMJ called “an elaborate fraud” by Dr. Andrew Wakefield to link developmental regression, bowel disease, and the MMR. Rose Kessick’s son was one of the 12 children in the controversial Lancet study that first raised the possibility of a connection between shot and symptoms that warranted further study, and part of MMR litigation that had been dismissed.

This past week - on Sunday, July 17, 2011 – the trail wound back to the Sunday Times. Editor Witherow wrote a column – subtitled “As the storm over phone hacking rages on, the editor of The Sunday Times says deception can sometimes be the only path to the truth” -- in which he defended the paper’s h tactics and singled out important investigations by the newspaper including “Brian Deer’s outstanding work on exposing the doctor behind the false MMR scare.” He rejected any criticism of the newspaper’s past conduct, citing the public interest.

“In other words,” he said, citing another high-profile Sunday Times investigation, “the ends justified the means.”

The Sunday Times has denied charges made this month by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the paper had “blagged” him, with Sunday Times personnel posing as Brown to gain access to his bank account. The real Gordon Brown referred the matter to police.

From here on, my short comments are in italic, between the correspondence, and at the end.

--

November 29, 2003:

Dear Mr. Witherow [Editor, The Sunday Times of London],

I was visited yesterday, Friday 28th November 2003 by Brian Lawrence who had introduced himself by telephone the previous Friday as the Sunday Times health correspondent. He had asked for the appointment which he told me was part of an exercise instigated by yourself in order to decide whether the Sunday Times should support the reinstatement of legal aid in the MMR cases.

I [was] both surprised and shocked by the tone and emphasis of the questioning which stopped little short of interrogation from the outset. This questioning began with a launch into the exact nature of what happened on the day my younger son had received his MMR vaccine down to questions about where I worked, what the surgery [medical office] was like, what time of day it would have been. …

It was curious that having asked if I didn’t mind the interview being recorded, Mr. Lawrence kept turning the same tape over every time it ran out.

It must not be forgotten that whatever anyone's personal opinions on the causation, we are a family traumatised and blighted by seeing our normal, healthy, beautiful baby son transformed into a desperately disabled child and have been struggling to cope with everything that this entails for the best part of fourteen years. 

Mr. Lawrence displayed no human qualities of compassion and even began the session by firmly and categorically stating his sympathy, approval and admiration for those paediatricians and other health care workers who remain not only detached from the plight of their young patients and families but who display a distinct cold lack of compassion. This attitude was backed up by the anecdote of his sitting in a room with parents grieving the death of their child following medical negligence when he described graphically how he was ignoring their tears to watch the television over the parents' shoulders in order to follow the ongoing storyline of a soap.

What I expect of the Sunday Times is the highest quality journalism and whilst I am well used to hostile questioning, sending a journalist of this calibre to abuse my hospitality in my own home was both unnecessary and inappropriate. The man arrived at 10.30am and left circa 4.30pm.

Despite our own personal outrage at the totally insensitive questioning, demeanour and attitude of this journalist my deepest concerns surround the extent to which the Sunday Times apparently intends to rely on this individual's judgment to formulate an opinion on the legal cases.

During the meeting Mr. Lawrence repeatedly displayed arrogance in his own perceived ability and knowledge which when probed, consistently revealed a dangerous bigotry and clear ignorance of the many legal and scientific facts salient to the MMR cases. He seemed to take delight in refuting many of the facts I was putting to him and I became so frustrated at one point that I telephoned my solicitor to check on the exact wording of one of the defence barristers at a court hearing. My solicitor took my call despite being in a meeting himself and responded to my request immediately. Mr. Lawrence also appeared irritated that the solicitor would not answer his requests to set up a meeting with him and did not accept his response that he was under instruction from the QC not to talk to the press pending the judicial review on the revoke of legal aid for the children in the MMR damage cases.

A recurring theme of the meeting was Mr. Lawrence's besmirching of the integrity and competence of everyone concerned with the MMR cases spanning Richard Barr and his team, our barristers, Dr. Wakefield, me, my family and the expert witnesses. … This all went way beyond what could be considered a reasonable assessment of humanity in general and was exceptionally insulting.

A further theme was the suggestion that we the families are naïve to the fact that everyone in life has their own agenda and we were merely being used by all concerned to further their own aims and objectives. 

Following yesterday’s complete waste of my time I can only assume that Mr. Lawrence’s agenda was totally at odds from that which he used to gain access. His methods seemed more akin to the gutter press than what may be reasonably expected of responsible journalism. In addition, his whole appearance was shoddy and shifty with a clear lack of respect for me, my family or my house. …

I remain deeply shocked that such a journalist who, in my opinion is neither well informed nor particularly intelligent, should be let loose as a representative of a newspaper with the reputation of the Sunday Times.

Whilst writing this I have just received an email from him which I will forward together with this, I have no intention of responding to Mr. Lawrence’s comments.  I will also put both in the post to you and await your response.

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary C. T. Kessick

--

Kessick remembers being surprised at the change from the day before that Deer’s e-mail represented, and noting that it arrived in the middle of typing her letter to the editor about his conduct. She did not read it until after she sent her letter to the Sunday Times.

-----Original Message-----
From: brian lawrence [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: 29 November 2003 11:09 …

Dear Rosemary,

I hope you don't feel that I was too rude yesterday.  I was mainly thinking aloud - trying to get an answer to a question that has been put to me - which is why not try to get the hearing when all the research is in and published.  It may be that there are procedural reasons why that can't happen, and I'm only trying to suggest that maybe those aren't just things you leave to lawyers, because they might want the thing over and done with to get on with something else.  In my experience, it's those people who are actually affected by the issue who are best placed to decide.  I wasn't saying I didn't support your case or didn't think you were doing the right thing. Autism and MMR is a big issue and any trial is surely going to make a huge difference one way or another.

Anyhow, if you have any questions, let me know.  I'll come back when those with more influence over these things than I have let me know how the paper proposes to fall on this.

Best wishes,

Brian

--

Later the same day, Rosemary Kessick received a response to her letter, from Sunday Times Managing Editor Richard Caseby.

-----Original Message-----

From: Caseby, Richard [mailto:[email protected]]

Sent: 29 November 2003 19:53 …

Subject: sunday times

 

Dear Ms Kessick,

Your email to the editor has been passed to me as managing editor so that I may investigate it. Once I have spoken to those involved I will be in contact next week.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Caseby, managing editor, The Sunday Times

--

The next day, Rosemary Kessick responded to Caseby.

Many thanks indeed, I look forward to your reply. In the meantime I have been trying to find reference to this man on the internet and have found nothing under the name lawrence.

 However, … I think that the man who came here was in fact someone else. We found a four year old picture of a Brian Deer (link attached) and feel that although he has aged and was quite dishevelled it is the same man.

Regards,

Rosemary Kessick

--

Two weeks later, Rosemary Kessick follows up with the Sunday Times Managing Editor.

Dear Mr. Caseby,

Following our subsequent telephone conversation I was wondering when you would be getting back to me on this matter?

--

This was followed by a further reminder a month later.

Dear Mr. Caseby,

Following our correspondence and discussion I await your comments on Mr. Brian Deer’s behaviour during his visit to my house in December last.

When I spoke to you on the telephone before Christmas I discussed my concern at hearing about an internal memo at the Sunday Times which, amongst other things, apparently accused me of providing an ‘unsatisfactory’ account of events surrounding my own son’s vaccination history to Mr. Deer. 

Whilst I never saw that memo I was horrified to gain sight of an email recently which has been forwarded to me I presume because of its contents and myself being discussed with someone whom I have never met. A number of areas concern me, in particular the references to my character and the word ‘campaign’ which is frankly ridiculous. I spoke with Mr. Deer as a concerned parent and to have these allegations being circulated against me causes great distress. The main body of that email [by Brian Deer] follows:

“… I'm still very much on the case and have pretty much reviewed the science, which you will know stands at something like 99.999 per cent recurring in favour of there being no link between MMR and autism. Indeed, I am not aware of any authority in a plausibly relevant specialty who says otherwise. This strikes me as surprising. During a previous vaccine scare, over DTP, many senior specialists, including paediatric neurologists and epidemiologists of the highest distinction advanced the theory that pertussis shots caused neurological injury. And they were found, on the balance of probability, to be wrong. …

MMR is a serious matter, touching on grave issues of public safety. You will know that, on this basis, I interviewed Mrs Rosemary Kessick of your campaign and, in four hours of recorded material, found her account of events surrounding her son's vaccination and history to be unsatisfactory.

It is my belief that a great deal of material placed before the public is also of a misleading nature. Having studied the media coverage of MMR, I appreciate that Dr Wakefield and the others have for the most part exposed themselves to journalists they might take to be sympathetic to the crusade against the vaccine. I have no such sympathy. If on that basis they do not wish to speak with me - which is certainly the impression I get - that must be a matter for them.

With best wishes, and happy new year

Brian Deer ”

{Here Kessick finishes her letter:] Mr. Caseby, as the mother of a seriously disabled child, fighting for his rights, I am scandalised at being discussed in this manner by a journalist representing a newspaper which I have always held in the highest regard and I sincerely hope that Mr. Deer does not intend casting further aspersions on my reputation in public print in the Sunday Times.

Awaiting your reply,

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary C.T. Kessick

cc Press Complaints Commission

     John Witherow

     Lois Rogers

 

--

On February 19, 2004, Rosemary Kessick sent Caseby a final follow-up:

Dear Mr. Caseby,

I still await a satisfactory written response with regard my correspondence, the last of which was by email dated 15th January.

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary C.T. Kessick

 

--

After that, Kessick reached out to the Sunday Times Legal Department’s Alastair Brett.

 

Dear Mr. Brett,

I write with regards the Sunday Times' imminent intent to publish an article about the MMR legal cases. It was with some surprise and distress that I learned of this as I still await a satisfactory response following my correspondence with Richard Caseby.

I believe that considering the odd, deceptive manner in which Brian Deer went about interviewing me, there is a very real possibility that I might be misrepresented.

I am not at all happy at the way in which my complaint has been handled.  I also learn that Mr Deer has been accusing me of lying and am at a loss to know what he is talking about. The mother of a severely disabled son, I willingly shared the story of events with Mr. Deer, as I have done with other journalists.

Everything I have experienced so far leaves me personally affronted, upset for my family and shocked that the Sunday Times should indulge such tactics though on form I believe that there is every intention to publish this Sunday, come what may.

I do not want any reference to me, my family, my disabled son or the work I do to help families of autistic children specific or veiled to appear.

Unless the matter is resolved entirely to my satisfaction I propose to take my complaint to the highest possible authority.

In the meantime I would appreciate an email response from you indicating that you have received this correspondence. My original letter to John Witherow is attached as are subsequent emails with Richard Caseby. My last contact with  Mr Caseby was in a telephone call I made to him several weeks ago when he told me that he was working on a response and  I could be assured  by the fact that no article had been published.

I remain unconvinced.

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary Kessick

--

The Sunday Times lawyer responded to her on February 18, 2004

Dear Ms. Kessick,

I have not seen any finalized copy yet but understand that, as at the present time, there is no intention to include you in anything we decide to publish on MMR.  Apart from what I have said above, and I hope it comes as some consolation, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on your letters to the Editor or the Managing Editor. 

It is my job to make sure that whatever is published is within the law and in accordance with the highest standards of investigative journalism.  I will contain to try to maintain those standards and I hope Abel Hadden will confirm this.

Please do not hesitate to call me on 020 7782 5858 if you would like to discuss anything further but as I have said I really do not want to take over matters which have gone to the Editor or his Managing Editor. 

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Brett

Legal Manager 

--

That was the end of the correspondence. Kessick was not quoted in the 2004 Times story. But the interview was mentioned by Deer in a 2009 Sunday Times article that claimed Dr. Wakefield “fixed data” in the study in which Rose Kessick’s child participated; he said he had received “cooperation from parents” in his investigations.

Direct quotes from the interview were used seven years later, in January 2011, in the British Medical Journal Article titled, “How the Case Against the MMR Vaccine was Fixed.”

--

Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism. He is the co-author, with Mark Blaxill, of The Age of Autism – Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic, to be published in paperback in September by Thomas Dunne Books.

Comments

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It is obvious that The Sunday Times were not confused by the name "Brian Lawrence", so one feels that they were complicit in the deceit.
Hardly surprising with what we now know about their dubious work methods.

A remarkable bit of duplicity and double standards is occuring here. Something that bothers me about the "science" crowd is that they espouse themselves as ethical and having integrity. They attack anyone they perceive to be unethical (Dr Wakefield, AoA, JB Handley), but don't acknowledge the unethical and dishonest behaviours of someone like Deer. In fact, they PRAISE him for it. The cognitive dissonance of these louts must be profound!

There is a long list of complaints that have been made particularly against the publishing of the series of articles. I have seen varied responses including items in regards to -

1. Peer Review process

2. Ethics Approval in regards to patient confidentiality

3. Conflicts of Interest of the BMJ

4. Conflicts of Interest in regards to editors and positions held at other organisations.

5. The linking to websites that contain prejudicial material.

6. Conflicts of Interests of key people in the story

The general public have the right to expect that material for it's consumption in a highly regarded publication are free from any shadow. It is in the public interest that medical matters are reported objectively and to the highest standards.

One should not forget this November 1998 article ... attacking the credibility of mother Margaret Best in regards to her disabled son ... Kenneth.

DTP triggered severe epilepsy in her son and she was awarded compensation for a lifetime of care.

Evidence is now clear that both Dr John Wilson paediatric neurologist and Margaret Best were correct in their belief that this medical condition was the result of an environmental insult (DTP) and an underlying genetic susceptability ... that claim was legally proved by the UK High Court and has now been confirmed by research.

http://briandeer.com/dtp-dpt-vaccine-1.htm

Could we expect a clear transparent and honest apology to all these people ....?

Contact the guy from Coast to Coast. Wasn't Andy on that show?

Wow. The last few sentences of Ken Paulson's quote from USA Today article reposted in F. E. Yazbakis comment is striking... he was referring to media and journalists, but it could really apply to so many agencies, organizations and industries with which we are all too familiar... the house of cards has to fall...

- But the reality is that competitive pressures will lead some to bend or abandon the old rules. For those who'd rather be first than right and are willing to compromise long-established ethical values, there's just one more question to answer: "Why should the public trust us?"

@Angus Files

Media matters is a left-wing hack organization, citing their statistics as some sort of impartial survey is absurd.

I'm no fan of Murdoch, but if this is some conspiracy of his "media empire", please explain why Fox News is the only news organization in the US that has given our side anything close to fair treatment. Do an AoA site search of "Alisyn Camerota" or even "Fox News" if you don't believe me. Fox News has treated our side better than just about any of the other mainstream media outlets.

Our issue is not a left/right issue. Our kids have friends on both sides of the aisle and I'm grateful for it. Please save the partisan shots for Daily Kos.

"You are writing theater, and you are writing history. Justice will be done."

I completely agree.


Everyone send this to Keith Olbermann .... [email protected] or maybe [email protected]

Mr. Lawrence kept turning the same tape over every time it ran out.
---------------------
Translating English can sometimes be a chore...

The nasty GSK dude with the attitude at the table was wired.

What a disgusting way to treat a parent. It beggars belief. Well done Rosemary for telling us about your experience - for keeping and sharing the written exchanges, and letting Dan recount the tale. This illustrates so aptly the methods used by Brian Deer when hunting his quarry. Ethics, empathy and common decency fly out the window. How I look forward to seeing him getting a public grilling - though I think the plate with the shaving foam should be avoided. No way should any excuse for sympathy be gained for this man.

Benedetta we should not pick on someone "who probably had a touch of Aspergers" but then he out grew his out...well we all know nobody grows out of Apergers...

gives an insight to his real knowldege on the subject in not so many words...unlike the reams supplied to him via the ghost writers at the Times ....

Murdoch`s Murderer`s Deer is one

I am with Angus, I think I need to clean my screen, ohhh but if only I could clean out my ears and brain from hearing Brian Deer pronouce the word CONSTIPATION in his English accent.

Sorry goes with my previous comment ....

The poll carried out by Survey USA on behalf of the monitoring group Media Matters underlines how closely the UK scandal over phone hacking is being watched by Americans. Of the 1,200 adults sampled, 72% said they were very or somewhat familiar with news stories about phone hacking and payments to police in the UK.

Suspicions about News Corporations activities are running high in America. Some 73% of respondents said they thought it very or somewhat likely that similar activity had occurred at Rupert Murdoch's news outlets in the US.

A resounding 77% thought that the justice department should look into any illegal activities by News Corp in America – showing wide public backing to the decision of the attorney general, announced last week, to begin a preliminary investigation. Similarly, 73% supported the decision of the FBI to investigate hacking of cell phones belonging to US citizens.

The FBI is looking into allegations that News of the World journalists tried to gain phone records of 9/11 victims, though as yet no convincing evidence has been produced of such a ploy.

http://www.surveyusa.com/clien​t/PollReport.aspx?g=f0ca7f35-7​39a-4925-b1ca-d439d75432aa

Ed Pilkington in New York writes that a poll has found that the majority of Americans want an investigation into whether News Corporation hacked into the phones of any US citizens or broke any other laws in their country..

Hi NMullan,

I believe that the reason Mr. Deer, aka Mr. Lawrence, had not been tossed out of Rosemary Kessick's home was this -- "He had asked for the appointment which he told me was part of an exercise instigated by yourself in order to decide whether the Sunday Times should support the reinstatement of legal aid in the MMR cases." -- and that seemed to be a very important issue.

I think the bigger issue that is brought up here is that a very suspicious person, sneaky and with "“no human qualities of compassion.”, was assigned this job. As we all know, he and his interactions, intentions and associations paint a picture.

Thank you, Dan for describing this is such a vivid way.

It sort of makes the page look dirty when you see Deers e-mails on it makes me want to get a cloth and clean it afterwards...I think I will go and do that...

well done Rosemary

Every dog must have his day, but the night belongs to us pussycats....

If anyone finds themselves being treated badly by any media-type, dismiss that person from your presence immediately. I am dismayed that Mrs. Kessick put up with this for six minutes, let alone six hours. I admire the patience and capacity for control evidenced by her subsequent letter, particularly in face of the fact that her family had already been profoundly wronged by the point of view that this person represented.

Any person behaving like an attorney during an interview, who clearly represents an antagonisitc point of view, should be shown the door immediately. Do not try to be polite, do not think you can win or convert them or make a point. You cannot. They have a mandate from their employer. Get rid of them. Dealing with the media is like picking up a snake by the tail. We feed them the material that they use to damage us.

Thanks, Dan. Hearing Rosemary Kessick's voice via the letter brings her and the shoddy, shifty Brian Deer alive as nothing else I've seen. This is high drama worthy of Agatha Christie and Alistair Cooke. I can imagine a BBC production of the whole saga, spit spewing from Deer’s mouth.

Hang in there. You are writing theater, and you are writing history. Justice will be done.

This story is far from done especially given the current events in the UK.

Thanks Dan for following and reporting on this story. Rosemary and her family did not deserve to be used in this way.

I know this video has been posted on AoA many times but for people who need more back ground on who Brian Deer is and a lot of details please watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fusaNwT22iQ. It is truly worth the 59 minutes.

I haven't quite appreciated before that Mrs. Kessick was recalling events that happened 13 years before. In court people are always asked if their memory is better now or was better then, implication being that recollections closer to the events is more to be trusted. Usually the gap involved is only a matter of weeks or months, not years.

I doubt I could remember details of traumatic events of even five years ago.

Im interested in this. But what do we say about all the guidelines which say he could do this? The BBC today has a webpage that might have been written by the man himself!!!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14232086

IMO, the top must crumble first sweeping Deer up in the falling debris. Focus on the top.

If not in the UK, I hope the US gov't presses charges against Murdoch and his wife Wendi Deng if in fact NOTW hacked into 9-11 families voicemails. They are a corrupt super power alliance. She represents China's interest in controlling the global media market. They've run NOTW like a spy network. It's all becoming crystal.


USA Today just carried an article by Ken Paulson, President of the American Society of News Editors titled “Could Murdoch scandal happen in U.S. Media”.

[http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-07-19-rupert-murdoch-media-scandal_n.htm]

Paulson wrote: “Most news organizations have written ethics codes, and they've largely done a good job of adhering to them. But the shifting media marketplace is prompting some to engage in practices they would have shunned a decade ago. Every news organization in this country needs to blow the dust off its ethics code and ask these questions moving forward…”

He then listed several questions including “Do we lie in pursuit of a story?” and ended by stating: “For many journalists, these questions are easily answered. They don't pay for interviews, misrepresent themselves, publish stories from questionable sources or make their politics public. But the reality is that competitive pressures will lead some to bend or abandon the old rules. For those who'd rather be first than right and are willing to compromise long-established ethical values, there's just one more question to answer: "Why should the public trust us?"


John .. do you have an email address for "Fiona Godlee" and "hmeldrum"?

I tried contacting "[email protected]" asking if they are going to pursue the Wakefield travesty .. and .. not surprising .. no response was received.

Email addresses below did not register. Should be:

[email protected]

[email protected]

Interesting article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/20/scandal-exposed-scale-elite-corruption

The ongoing .. global coverage .. of the UK's (Murdoch) media .. has exposed it for what it was .. a media lacking any professional journalistic integrity .. that routinely abused their position under the guise of a "free press".

I suspect .. as outraged as the U.K. has become over "hacking and paying bribes" to all manner of politicians, police, celebrities, etc ..
that outrage will pale should the Times ever be found guilty of similar .. or .. worse abuses .. that sought to corrupt the most precious commodity in any country .. the PUBLIC HEALTH.

Now is the time that serious questions be asked and answered .. regarding the Times "how and why" .. of their vicious campaign to destroy Dr. Wakefield.

After the first article I wrote to Fiona Godlee, editor of BMJ copying to Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association, and have now done so again. They didn't answer (at least the first time): I can only urge others to write as well.

"Fiona Godlee" ,

"hmeldrum" ,

I challenge anyone to read this article and not feel uterly sick.

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