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Best of: UK Inquiry Cuts Deal With News International Not To Investigate Brian Deer

Lord-Justice-LevesonBest of from 2012.

UK's Leveson Inquiry plays cat and mouse with public interest over the Murdoch press investigation into MMR.

It has been said that vaccines are the greatest cause of coincidence known to man. What was extraordinary about the Leveson Inquiry was not only that all these people connected with the MMR affair re-emerged in connection with the Inquiry but also the way it kept returning to a defence of MMR as a safe product (which had nothing to do with its brief) and even with its first report which included an attack on Andrew Wakefield, while excluding concerns about the way the media had conducted themselves towards the MMR families and towards Wakefield and colleagues - a subject which easily did fall within its remit. (Note added May 2016).

By John Stone

When it comes to the MMR affair the UK’s inquiry into the conduct of the press and Rupert Murdoch’s News International media empire seems to have been biased, have hidden historical connections and to be anything but transparent. Four family members of vaccine damaged children who submitted evidence to the Inquiry have found themselves arbitrarily rebuffed at News International’s behest. Their concerns, based on publically available information, were:

-    The obtaining of confidential medical records by Sunday Times hired journalist Brian Deer  

-    Deer’s use of an alias when interviewing parents   and  Brian Deer's Use of an Alias Part 2,  

-    The circumstances in which Deer was hired by the Sunday Times to find something “big” on “MMR”  Open Letter to Sunday Times Editor 

-    That Deer and the Sunday Times did not make clear in the newspaper that he had personally initiated the prosecution against Wakefield and colleagues with a series of complaints whilst continuing to report the GMC hearing  

-    That Deer received advice from MedicoLegal Investigations, an agency with close connections to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry 

-    That the Sunday Times/Times launched a new raft of articles  against Wakefield following the announcement of the appointment of News International boss, James Murdoch, to the board of MMR manufacturers and defendants GlaxoSmithKline in February 2009 

Faced with these important issues the Leveson Inquiry has simply chosen to draw a veil over the matter, while happily taking evidence that the press abused its role by reporting concerns about MMR safety in the first place. It is a remarkable and unhappy coincidence, therefore, that Lord Leveson and lead attorney for the Inquiry,  Robert Jay QC, were both involved in blocking litigant families’ interests in the MMR proceedings.

Below is the joint statement of the four co-authors of the submission (which cannot be reproduced for reasons of confidentiality):

A key question of the UK Leveson Inquiry into press ethics is how independent will the inquiry be in the face of powerful press corporations such as News International and their media outlets. Set up last summer after revelations of a decade of phone hacking by the press, the Inquiry into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson, has come to be seen as a potential solution to unbridled press powers to intrude into private life. Whether it succeeds in establishing a new system of press regulation and legal rights against intrusion must await the publication of Leveson's report later this year. But our experience as four parents of autistic children who submitted a detailed account of the Sunday Times’ 7-year investigation into the 1998 Lancet paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield et al, demonstrates NI’s continuing power to influence the evidence submitted to the Inquiry and its agenda.

The Sunday Times investigation by journalist Brian Deer began in 2004 with the highly questionable act of obtaining without the consent of parents or the Royal Free Hospital the confidential medical records of eleven sick children whose anonymised clinical conditions the Lancet paper had studied. An act which was repeated in 2006 by another News International  paper, the Sun, who obtained and published confidential medical records of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's son, Fraser. The Sunday Times investigation raised further questions which we put to the Inquiry. Given these events, The Inquiry’s initial response to our submission in November 2011 was to arrange for one of us to sign it as a statement of truth and then to call him to appear before the inquiry to give oral evidence on 6 December. But we, like other parents who have witnessed the press’ ongoing disregard for our cause, didn’t hold our breath. One week before his appearance, the parent was told the Inquiry no longer required his attendance.

On asking why, he was told by the Inquiry solicitors that the Sunday Times had exercised their right as 'core participants' to object to the witness statement. In fact they had successfully convinced the Inquiry that their version of events was different from the parents' submission and that Leveson would need to establish which version was accurate. However, assessing the veracity of competing statements was not within Leveson’s terms of reference and so the Inquiry rejected the statement and refused to publish it as part of its large body of evidence. The Inquiry moved in the space of a week or so from calling a witness to give oral evidence based on his statement of truth to rejecting his evidence in total.

The role of core participant was introduced under the 2006 Inquiry Rules and entitles a core participant to be designated a "person [who] played, or may have played, a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry relates", or has a direct interest in these matters, or is likely to be subject to significant or explicit criticism during the course of the inquiry. "In line with natural justice" (in the Inquiry solicitor's words when explaining the rejection of our submission), core participants have advanced sight of witness statements that refer to them. Nowhere does legislation mention the right of core participants to challenge evidence they are entitled to see. It appears that Justice Leveson has introduced this practice as a rule to be followed in his own Inquiry following arguments from News International’s lawyers. Having gained this new right, News International is now exercising it.

The Inquiry solicitors asked News International lawyers if they were willing to share their submission with the parent; but they refused. In sum, News International lawyers, supported by the legal nonsense of natural justice, have sight of the parents' evidence and then get it thrown out. The parents on the other hand are not allowed to see New International's argument for rejecting their evidence.

This travesty of legal rights is further compounded by Leveson's rhetoric about transparency. In his opening remarks on 28 July 2011, he referred to "the spirit of complete transparency which I intend should be one of the principal objectives of all of our work".

What is also surprising is that many of the 500 witnesses so far submitting statements or  appearing before the Inquiry have given evidence based on accounts that News International newspapers and other press outlets might object to. Yet these witnesses were given the opportunity to submit written evidence and be examined by Inquiry lawyers on their evidence. This raises a key question: how often have core participants successfully argued that the evidence of written submissions should not be accepted by the Inquiry? How many other potential witnesses have been excluded because NI or other core participants objected? Whilst the public continue to be deeply alarmed by the Inquiry's mounting revelations, they have no idea what other evidence of press misconduct is being kept from public view by legal manoeuvring behind the hearing.

Whilst Leveson has deemed the parents' evidence inadmissible, well-known witnesses have been allowed to publically criticise press reporting in the early 2000s of parents' and others' legitimate worries about MMR safety. Alistair Campbell, former Prime Minister Tony Blair's press secretary, said the media were "grossly irresponsible" in reporting the 1998 Lancet paper. Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, having published several investigative reports questioning the safety of MMR, recanted and "ran a mea culpa" retracting their earlier investigation of its alleged dangers http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/01/in-memoriam-paul-foot-private-eye-in-an-ethical-tangle-over-mmr.html . Ms Fiona Fox, for the Science Media Centre, referred to the MMR as "the best known example of how poor media reporting can cause harm" http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/02/hacked-off-boss-martin-moore-sat-on-uk-government-panel-with-editor-who-hired-brian-deer-.html , http://www.ageofautism.com/2009/04/autism-the-64-billion-dollar-a-year-question-for-simon-baroncohen-ben-goldacre-fiona-fox-and-autism-.html  . No mention in their accounts of the genuine worries parents have about MMR safety, the experiences of parents of autistic children who witnessed their child's regression closely following the jab, and of medical calls for a more cautious approach to vaccinations.

The involvement of individuals who have misrepresented the children's case in the media goes beyond these witnesses to Dr Evan Harris, the adviser to ‘Hacked Off’, the anti-Murdoch organisation formed in the wake of the media hacking scandal. Hacked Off has refused to explain the presence of former MP Evan Harris as its advisor . Dr Harris – who was also a member of the British Medical Association ethics committee at the time – accompanied Brian Deer to the Lancet offices on 18 February 2004 to ambush Wakefield and colleagues with Deer's findings from the confidential medical records of children obtained without consent. Harris wrote an editorial in the Sunday Times, accompanying Deer’s first allegations against Wakefield on 22 February 2004, and led a debate against Wakefield under cloak of privilege in the House of Commons on 15 March 2004.

When it comes to both the chairman and lead attorney for the Inquiry, Lord Leveson and Queen’s Counsel Robert Jay, it is troubling in this context that they have both played a role in denying the claims to justice of the MMR litigants. In October 2005, Leveson refused the parents' application for a judicial review of the decision of the Legal Services Commission to withdraw legal aid from their children's class action against MMR manufacturers  ,while the  Commission was represented at the original hearing before Sir Nigel Davis by Jay (‘R (Williams) v Legal Services Commission [article 6 and reasons to challenge to LSC's decision to withdraw public funding for the MMR…]).  The judgments of both Davis and Leveson remains embargoed to this day, leaving the roles of Davis's and Leveson's thinking and Jay's evidence  obscure in this matter.

Martin Hewitt, John Stone, David Thrower & Bill Welsh (Links in the text have been added by AoA)

Related links:

Sir Crispin Davis and James Murdoch No Longer on GSK Board http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/01/sir-crispin-davis-and-james-murdoch-no-longer-on-gsk-board.html

Melanie Phillips, ‘A Deer in the Headlights’ Spectator http://www.whale.to/vaccine/a_deer.html

In Memoriam Paul Foot: Private Eye in an Ethical Tangle Over MMR http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/01/in-memoriam-paul-foot-private-eye-in-an-ethical-tangle-over-mmr.html

Evan Harris Distances Himself From Brian Deer But His Position Remains Untenable http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/01/evan-http://www.ageofautism.com/2009/04/autism-the-64-billion-dollar-a-year-question-for-simon-baroncohen-ben-goldacre-fiona-fox-and-autism-.htmlharris-distances-himself-from-brian-deer-position-remains-untenable.html

Hacked Off Boss, Martin Moore, Sat on UK Government Panel with Editor who Hired Brian Deer http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/02/hacked-off-boss-martin-moore-sat-on-uk-government-panel-with-editor-who-hired-brian-deer-.html

Open Letter to Sunday Times Editor John Witherow: ‘We wouldn’t do fishing http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/02/open-letter-to-sunday-times-editor-john-witherow-we-wouldnt-do-fishing.html

 Brian Deer Hired to "Find Something Big" on MMR http://www.ageofautism.com/2010/03/brian-deer-hired-to-find-something-big-on-mmr.html

Brian Deer Lords it at a Pharmaceutical Conference in France http://www.ageofautism.com/2011/11/brian-deer-lords-it-at-a-pharmaceutical-conference-in-france.html

Autism: the 64 billion dollar a year question for Simon Baron-Cohen, Ben Goldacre, Fiona Fox and Autism Speaks UK http://www.ageofautism.com/2009/04/autism-the-64-billion-dollar-a-year-question-for-simon-baroncohen-ben-goldacre-fiona-fox-and-autism-.html

An Elaborate Fraud, Part 1: In Which a Murdoch Reporter Deceives the Mother of a Severely Autistic Child http://www.ageofautism.com/2011/07/an-elaborate-fraud-part-1-in-which-a-murdoch-reporter-deceives-the-mother-of-a-severely-autistic-chi.html

An Elaborate Fraud, Part 2: In Which a Murdoch Newspaper’s Deceptive Tactics Infect the British Medical Journal http://www.ageofautism.com/2011/07/an-elaborate-fraud-part-2-in-which-a-murdoch-newspapers-deceptive-tactics-infect-the-british-medical.html

Newsletter: MMR and MLI – MMR Sunday Times Investigation 22 February 2004  http://www.whale.to/v/mli.html

Comments

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John Stone

Susan & Paul

With regard to Private Eye I do not feel very indulgent: in my opinion they just ducked out when Paul Foot died in 2004. After a lot of nagging before the GMC hearing they published a column about the withdrawal Prof McDevitt from the chairing the hearing, and about the Davis brothers. They had ample evidence that there was a lot wrong with the prosecution which they ought to have been able to report without fear of litigation. I think the answer has a lot more to do with the lucrative careers of editor Ian Hislop with the BBC and the medical columnist Phil Hammond as an after dinner speaker for the pharmaceutical industry (which is not what you want the Eye's medical correspondent to be). At the very least Hislop could have spared us his show recantation over MMR at the Leveson hearing. It was completely unnecessary although it also rather demonstrates there was something weird was going on. The smallest mercy was that we were spared the Eye and Guardian newspapers jointly giving Brian Deer the Paul Foot Award.

Paul Champion

@susan

I can well understand why Private Eye doesn’t want to comment. It is only has a small circulation with limited financial resources. For instance:

Maxwell was known to be litigious against those who would speak or write against him. The satirical magazine Private Eye lampooned him as "Cap'n Bob" and the "bouncing Czech",[34] the latter nickname having originally been devised by Prime Minister Harold Wilson[35] (under whom Maxwell was an MP). Maxwell took out several libel actions against Private Eye, one resulting in the magazine losing an estimated £225,000

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Maxwell#Later_business_activities

Of course, in the fullness of time Private Eye proved to be right all along on what they wrote about him but they didn't get their £225,000 of legal costs back. It was a hefty financial blow for such a small magazine.

Maxwell, like big pharma miss used the might of law to castrate all opposition.

susan

I have been contacting Private Eye over the last 18 months, but with no response. No wonder - someone obviously 'lent on them'. Pity, because it is the only 'magazine' I read. At least now I understand why they are unable to report on this heinous crime. I hold Brian Deer, Rupert Murdoch and the British Government(and US Govt./media)responsible for all children with vaccine injuries/autism since early 2000s. They and their families live with the tragedy of impaired lives every day. I hope their (BD, RM, media, Govts) sleep is very disturbed. Obviously they don't care about the destruction of family lives they have caused, but maybe they are feeling very uncomfortable now that the truth is coming out with Vaxxed. Also, the new Robert de Niro documentary and film of Andrew Wakefield's story are hopefully in the pipeline. Can't wait!

Reader

Deer has enjoyed quite a lot of "protection" from media and legal fronts, hence his smug attitude even though he has obviously acted illegally/fraudulently in several instances. One day the dam on this whole charade will burst and they will all be guilty in terms of the particular role they were paid to play.

John Stone

Benedetta

Thanks, I had never heard before of this emblematic incident, the Johnstown Flood of 1889.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnstown_Flood

It reminded me also of the Camelford water disaster in the UK which dates from exactly the same moment in British history as MMR where the DH blatantly conspired to defraud the survivors of recognition and compensation.

http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f3376/rr/647108

They then dribbled the ball up the field for more than a quarter of a century with another bogus inquiry.

Presumably in the Johnstown case the tycoons could have paid to rebuild the lives of the survivors out of their small change.

Benedetta

It is like going back to the time when we had the American Titians millionaires, and their hunting club, with a lake, held back by an unstable damn that did break and flooded a town, and killed all the people. And all the Titians walked away.

That has what it has been like with all things medical - esp the vaccine industry. They are just brazen and think they will never have to answer. They don't even seem to mind that so many know their crimes.

Angus Files

And the same people are connected to the war invasion in Iraq oh!via Tony`s son..Tony being the alleged adulterer of Rupert Murdoch's ex-wife, Murdoch being godfather to ..where do you start and stop.
The last time I was forced to read an article about any of these "family guys" happened to be the "birds of a feather" article below KARMA ..chuck Deer into that and what lovely get together`s they all must have.Just don't leave your drink unattended...

PR guru Matthew Freud hid secret love child from his wife Elisabeth Murdoch for TWO YEARS after affair with one of her friends

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3367320/PR-guru-Matthew-Freud-hid-secret-love-child-wife-Elisabeth-Murdoch-two-years-affair-friend-media-mogul-s-daughter.html

MMR RIP

John Stone

Ed

Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet.

Ed Yazbak

Thank you John.

We should never forget this terrible period and its events.

WilliamMarchant

When Deer came to my house, he was quite smug when showing us the Medical Files from the Royal Free Hospital of the child patients. His behaviour was so erratic that we feared for his sanity. I could never understand why Jodie was regarded by him as an MMR as we had gone public 4 years previously that Jodie was a victim of a multiple injection. I was amazed that a man with no medical qualifications could be involved and used to ruin a doctors career and prevent families obtaining justice and facing bleak futures.

John Stone

Well Joan, it is four years ago now and they were clearly making up their rules as they went along. I am sure there were a lot of other matters that News International would not have liked aired but in this case the decision was left to them which is anomalous to say the least. On the other hand Leveson's recommendation that there should be a new body to regulate the press has never been enacted and probably now won't. The Inquiry was mired in its own scandals (of which this is only one). I have just read on Wiki:

"It was reported in the media that Leveson had attended two parties in the prior 12 months at the London home of Matthew Freud, son-in-law of Rupert Murdoch and head of Freud Communications PR firm.[12][13] According to The Independent, Freud had "agreed to do some free consultancy work for the Sentencing Council."[14] The revelations led to a number of Labour MPs calling for Leveson to be removed from the Inquiry.[15][16] These were two large evening events attended in Leveson's capacity as Chairman of the Sentencing Council, and with the knowledge of the Lord Chief Justice.[17]"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leveson_Inquiry

Joan Campbell

Brian Deer has a lot to answer for and this decision should be appealed if it can be. Thanks John again for your tenacity and strength.

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