Martin J. Walker From the UK's GMC
By Martin J. Walker
It's just an old war,
Not even a cold war,
Don't say it in Russian,
Don't say it in German.
Say it in broken English.
Dr Wakefield's counsel Keiran Coonan began his closing speech on behalf of Dr Andrew Wakefield at 9.30 on April 7th. He continued on Wednesday April 8th and then there was a break until the afternoon of April 14th, after which he continued on his feet again on the afternoon of Wednesday 15th, the afternoon of Thursday 16th and all day Friday 17th. When KC was just half a day away from finishing his closing speech the GMC broke up again, leaving him with two hours to finish on Tuesday 28th of April.
Much of Mr Coonan's closing speech was given over half days. Perhaps you have heard the latest credit-crunch catch-phrase presently drifting round the GMC, 'Half days are the new full employment'; apparently it's an expression that Miss Smith takes very seriously. Having never been a barrister, I do not know how difficult this continual stop and start makes a presentation. I can consider with some certainty, however, that the panel's perception of this whole affair must be affected by what Marianne Faithful might call 'Broken English'. As to the barristers, I can only think of the outcome of their product and the fact that its quality must be jeopardised.
As a good closing speech should be, Kieran Coonan's was delivered logically and steadily, refuting every murmur of the prosecution case. His masterly critique of the case so affected one naïf to write on his blog that the prosecution case had 'collapsed'; if only. Friends wrote to me from all over the world wanting to congratulate Dr Wakefield. I did wonder for a moment whether or not this was yet another example of my having become institutionalised by the hearing, but quickly realised that it was the particular commentator’s lack of understanding of the English language. It is of course not possible for the prosecution case to collapse as a consequence of the defence's closing speech. It is possible, however, for the defence counsel to demolish the prosecution case in his closing speech, which is what Kieran Coonan did efficiently.
Before I report on the closing speech I want to say something about motive; not the motive of the defendant, that might seek to explain the things that the prosecution suggests that they have done, but the motive of the prosecution. To my mind, addressing this motive is now, and has been since the beginning of the hearing, essential. It is made even more urgent because the three defendants have been subjected to a corrupt legal process.
One of the central judicial problems with regulatory hearings, unlike courtroom trials, is that while it is commonly accepted that the case for the defence and the prosecution in legal proceedings can reach beyond the evidence of fact, in a specialised professional or regulatory hearing the knot of the evidence is very tightly drawn. It would be inconceivable in the present climate in Britain to defend a Muslim person charged with terrorist offences without extending the lines of argument well beyond those of specific facts, into areas of culture, politics, law and police organisation for instance.
In a 'bent' prosecution where the defendant was innocent, wrapped up in all these seemingly extraneous issues one might well find a 'motive' for the prosecution that was useful to the defence in arguing the innocence of their client. This principle holds true even in much lesser cases, for example, in a civil action brought by one neighbour against another over noise. In such a case, the life-style and beliefs of a defendant can speak volumes about motive.
What concerns me about the defence of all three doctors is that no information has been given to Panel members about the prosecution’s motive, shaped by the much larger environment of vaccination, vaccine damage and its denial. I know that many lawyers can be quite paranoid about introducing social or cultural evidence into a trial of any kind that is not exactly supported by fact; fearful perhaps of introducing concepts into the defence that might signal their client, or even they, as conspiracy theorists. However, if we look at the GMC hearing from the perspective of the Panel, what are they to think? When they reach their verdicts, they will have listened, for over 140 days or so, to the minutiae of what could well appear to be balanced legal arguments and they have been given very little information about the social and political context in which this case is set.
The panel might well ask themselves, on behalf of the defendants, 'What could be the motive of these well established doctors in carrying out research on children without ethics committee approval, using potentially damaging invasive procedures?' However, they might equally ask themselves, 'What could be the prosecution's motive for proceeding against these doctors if they are wholly innocent?' The answers they might come up with could sink the defence. In my opinion, the Panel have been provided with no social, political or cultural information that would help them answer this question in favour of the defence. I think that if the defence loses this hearing, or the defendants are found guilty on a good proportion of the charges, this lack of explanation will be at the root of the verdict.
However, strategic issues aside, after so many days of straining to hear the lickspittle legal debate, it was immensely refreshing to get out onto open ground again and hear studied, strong and accusatory statements coming from the defence.
* * *
Mr Coonan did a sterling job in a seriously professional manner, despite the frequently collapsed sound system. His studied defence of Dr Wakefield was reminiscent of early days in the proceedings, and I found myself once again enjoying the logic and force of his argument. Mr Coonan began with the statutory and very necessary remarks about the burden of proof, which is of course, on the prosecution; while they have to prove their charges beyond reasonable doubt, Dr Wakefield and the other defendants do not have to prove anything. Following this, Mr Coonan covered some of the worst abuses effected over two years by the prosecution.
My thoughts on motive were brought to the fore by these preliminary remarks; each one appeared to draw attention to the inadequacies in honesty and efficiency in the prosecution case. His strong statements included the following: '…most of the prosecution witnesses were irrelevant…'; the prosecution carried out '…a sustained attack on Dr Wakefield's honesty…', the prosecution was '…scornful and hostile…'; the evidence was not about '…the underlying science…'; there was a '…significant failure to disclose documents…'; some documents '…were not included in the bundle…'; correspondence was used in evidence by the prosecution '…that Dr Wakefield never saw and had never commented on…'; the prosecution displayed 'hypocrisy' in its closing speech; what has been said about Dr Wakefield's character '…says more about the prosecution than Dr Wakefield…'; the defence has very real concerns that press coverage '…may have had a corrosive effect…' on the hearing; what about the evidence of '…the witnesses who were not called…'; and finally Mr Coonan's excellent but perhaps slightly misguided suggestion that '…the expression "Off Side" comes to mind…', I say misguided, because for me Miss Smith has not just been loitering alone near the goal line from where she might have scored a dodgy goal, rather she has played throughout with the overt pathology of an Argentinean fullback while the prosecution generally has generated a filthy match during which all the prosecution players, even their central witnesses and members of the press gallery, should have been shown red cards very early on.
The relevant witnesses as far as the defence counsel was concerned, were those who, if they had been called by the prosecution, would have added detail that would effectively damage the prosecution case. From the beginning this was the quandary of the prosecution; most of the witnesses they did call ended up giving evidence for the defence and those who stuck to the threadbare prosecution case found themselves unable to add forcibly to its shaky structure. One thinks, for example, of Professor Rutter, the eminent psychiatrist discussing the rights and wrongs of colonoscopy, when such procedures had absolutely nothing to do with Dr Wakefield or for that matter Professor Rutter himself; or Professor Booth insisting that blood tests were the primary way of testing for IBD, again, something that had nothing to do with Dr Wakefield and was given as evidence against Professor Walker-Smith, one of Europe's most renowned paediatric gastroenterologists, who had diagnosed hundreds of cases of IBD.
However, where the evidence for the prosecution was seen to be threadbare, it was not just with respect to the experts, none of whom were cross-examined by the defence, but to the everyday information surrounding such issues as the funding from the Legal Aid Board (LAB, subsequently the Legal Services Commission). Clearly only a few mouthfuls of evidence from someone who dealt with the LAB funding could have vouched for its validity, its authority and its eventual use, while the prosecution asked countless witnesses their speculative opinion in this matter. In relation to the condition of the individual children, this speculation was even more pronounced. Why did the prosecution bring all the general practitioners to give evidence for the prosecution that the twelve Lancet children were not suffering from IBD when none of these doctors had the expert experience or medical knowledge to determine this? In fact, Mr Coonan's accusation that '…most of the prosecution witnesses were irrelevant…’ was probably a gross understatement. Or phrased another way, those witnesses who were not irrelevant were asked wrong or leading questions that produced no evidence of value in support of the prosecution case.
Read the full GMC report HERE.
Martin J Walker is an investigative writer who has written four books about aspects of the medical industrial complex. He started focusing on conflict of interest, intervention by pharmaceutical companies in government and patient groups in 1993. Over the last three years he has been a campaign writer for the parents of MMR vaccine damaged children covering every day of the now two year hearing of the General Medical Council that is trying Dr Wakefield and two other doctors. His GMC accounts can be found at www.cryshame.com, and his own website is, www.slingshotpublications.com .
Thank you Mr. Walker.
Posted by: Jeanne | April 29, 2009 at 09:22 PM
Thank you for your work and diligence.
Posted by: Fiona Sacchetti | April 29, 2009 at 05:40 PM
I hope to see transcripts of Kieran Coonan's closing arguments. Breaking up his arguments in this way gives a new meaning to "contempt of court"-- not to mention the broken sound system.
The whole thing is enfuriating. My children are better today because of the work that the Royal Free doctors did.
Posted by: Gatogorra | April 29, 2009 at 02:50 PM
This ordeal must be torture for Dr. Wakefield- just reading about this witch trial sickens me. I hope I live long enough for Wakefield and company to be vindicated, and for history to render judgement on Miss Smith and company. Thank you for this detailed reporting.
Posted by: merryG | April 29, 2009 at 01:31 PM
Thanks so much for reporting on this!
Posted by: Twyla | April 29, 2009 at 12:14 PM
Thank you for this important analysis. Seven days of closing speeches -- what an incredible ordeal. And what an unnecessary waste of time that deflects from healing sick children.
Though information on the prosecution's motive was not provided, it should be quite evident to observers.
I'm not surprised that the general practitioners testified that the children were not suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. Here in the U.S. many doctors choose to dodge their young patients' gastrointestinal issues, stating all manner of bizarre conclusions that have nothing to do with what a scope or pill cam would reveal.
Posted by: nhokkanen | April 29, 2009 at 11:17 AM