“… both Harris and Hacked Off/MST have to do a lot more to clear the air, if by now it is possible. In the first place Hacked Off/MST have accepted a false assurance from Harris, and both have to make clear their views on Brian Deer’s investigation, the ethical deficiencies of which have been thoroughly drawn to their attention. Their present actions pose more questions than they answer, including what exactly they are doing at the Leveson Inquiry”
I earlier today received the following characteristically tight-lipped communication Martin Moore of Media Standards Trust/Hacked Off
'Dear Mr Stone,
'Please see the statement below:
'The Hacked Off campaign have been reassured that Dr Evan Harris has never engaged in breaching patients' confidentiality nor was he involved in Brian Deer's MMR investigation. As such we see no reason to believe Dr Harris’ position as an advisor to the Hacked Off campaign has been compromised and he will continue to work closely with us.
'With best regards,
There is no historical doubt that Harris worked with Deer on his investigation, and Harris himself has previously boasted about it. It is hard to see how MST/Hacked Off could have accepted his word. Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet wrote in his book ‘MMR Science and Fiction’ of the presence of Harris with Deer in the Lancet offices when Deer made his initial allegations recalling (p.3):
“The tension in that earlier meeting had been heightened by the shadowy presence of Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament.”
Dr Harris stated in the BMJ only last year that:
“Within a week [after receiving a telephone call from Deer] we were in the Lancet offices explaining to a stunned editorial team what lay behind that fateful 1998 paper.”
And indeed when Deer’s allegations appeared four days later in the Sunday Times it was with an accompanying editorial by Harris. BMJ reported:
“In addition to the two page investigation by Brian Deer, the Sunday Times also carried an opinion piece by Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat member of the Commons science and technology committee calling for an independent inquiry into the way the research was carried out. Dr Harris, a member of the BMA's ethics committee, said something similar to the Kennedy inquiry into the deaths of babies at Bristol Royal Infirmary was required.”
Barely two weeks later Harris was back again furthering Deer’s allegation under privilege in the House of Commons.
It is beyond dispute that Deer and Harris worked together, and it is very good news on the day when Andrew Wakefield’s libel action became publicly known that Harris wants to distance himself from Deer’s activities, but it has taken a very long time.
However, both Harris and Hacked Off/MST have to do a lot more to clear the air, if by now it is possible. In the first place Hacked Off/MST have accepted a false assurance from Harris, and both have to make clear their views on Brian Deer’s investigation, the ethical deficiencies of which have been thoroughly drawn to their attention. Their present actions pose more questions than they answer, including what exactly they are doing at the Leveson Inquiry:
I emailed Moore earlier (3.04pm):-
'Dear Mr Moore, 'I would be very glad if you could clarify your views on Mr Deer's investigation. Whether you view it with concern (and the particularly five issues I have highlighted) and whether Hacked Off and Dr Harris should not be encouraging the Leveson Inquiry to investigate the matter.
'Dr Harris was with Brian Deer when he made accusations against Wakefield and colleagues in the Lancet offices 4 days before the initial allegations were made in the Sunday Times (22 February 2004). He contributed an editorial in the Sunday Times accompanying the allegations (22 February 2004) and led a debate in the House of Commons based on the allegation on 15 March 2004. These accusations were to do with the children in the Lancet article. I quote the Sunday Times editorial:
'"At least four of the 10 patients paid for under legal aid were also apparently paid for by the health service."
'In a Science and Technology Committee meeting on 1 March 2004 he alluded to a letter of Wakefield in the Lancet for 2 May 1998 but did not mention that Wakefield had acknowledged in that very letter that he was acting as an expert in the court case - so it is hard to see how it was a revelation 6 years later. (BMJ: Editor in the Eye of a Storm)
'It is clear that Dr Harris collaborated with Mr Deer in any ordinary understanding of the term. I quote from an article in British Medical Journal only last year:
'"In February 2004 I got a call on my mobile from a journalist at the Sunday Timessaying he wanted to talk to me about the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. I said firmly that I didn’t have any concerns about MMR, I didn’t want to assist a scare story, and if I did want to talk about public health it wouldn’t be to theSunday Times, given the paper’s record on HIV and AIDS coverage. “Too bad,” said the man. “I have an exclusive exposé about Andrew Wakefield’s undeclared conflicts of interest surrounding his original 1998 Lancet paper.” “Hang on a sec,” I said. “I’ll get Dr Harris on the line.” '
"That was when I first encountered investigative journalist Brian Deer. Within a week we were in the Lancet offices explaining to a stunned editorial team what lay behind that fateful 1998 paper.1"' BMJ After Wakefield: The Real Questions that Need Addressing
'If Dr Harris now has doubts about the way Deer carried out the investigation, which until recently he was please(d) to be associated with (and despite warnings), it would be helpful if he would say.
'Very best wishes,
You can read the first article in the series Hacked Off with Hacked Off HERE.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.