An Elaborate Fraud, Part 3: In Which the Mother of Two Autistic Children Demands Accountability From the British Medical Journal
Read An Elaborate Fraud Part 1: In Which a Murdoch Reporter Deceives the Mother of a Severely Autistic Child and An Elaborate Fraud, Part 2: In Which a Murdoch Newspaper’s Deceptive Tactics Infect the British Medical Journal.
By Dan Olmsted
Isabella Thomas, mother of two of the 12 children in the controversial Early Report that first linked bowel disease and developmental regression, has written to the British Medical Journal asking whether its claim that the report was “an elaborate fraud” was itself tainted by the use of confidential medical information about her sons.
“I am putting in a complaint about Brian Deer’s article in the BMJ. … Some of the article relates to my sons’ medical details,” Thomas wrote last week to the BMJ editors as well as the Press Complaints Commission that considers allegations of journalist misconduct. “Please can you investigate my complaint as a matter of urgency. I am asking what material you had from Brian Deer to [corroborate] his story. Did you have … medical records or confidential documents relating to my children?”
Thomas’s plea followed by one day the start of my series examining the BMJ’s January article by free-lance journalist Deer. Deer claimed Dr. Andrew Wakefield, lead researcher in the 1998 Early Report, had “fixed data” to create the appearance of a link between bowel disorder, developmental regression and the measles-mumps-rubella shot, or MMR.
That Early Report – which appeared in 1998 in the Lancet, Britain’s other leading medical journal – noted that in eight of the 12 children (including Thomas’s), parents linked the onset of symptoms to the MMR shot, and it called for more research to see if a link in fact existed. It said no link to the MMR was established by the simple case series report.
Despite that cautious approach, the report and its aftermath sparked a firestorm that, fueled by Deer, ultimately led to Wakefield losing his medical license and to the Lancet retracting the report. Yet thousands of parents continue to support Wakefield and describe the same sequence of shot and symptoms as parents in the original case series. Mainstream media, medical groups, public health officials and pharmaceutical companies say any link has been discredited.
All but one of the Lancet parents who have spoken out – including Thomas – have stood by Wakefield and the study results and called the efforts to discredit him unfounded.
The January BMJ article by Deer, titled “How the Case Against the MMR Vaccine was Fixed,” was one of many written by Deer over a period of seven years charging Wakefield with conflicts of interest, unethical practices and, finally, outright fraud. Most of that work was published in the Sunday Times of London. Even the BMJ’s fraud allegation was not new – it was originally published in the Sunday Times in 2009 in an article by Deer claiming Wakefield had “fixed data” to create the MMR link..
Whatever methods Deer used to gather that information for the Sunday Times, in other words, were the methods adopted by the BMJ when it published them as the basis for its claim of “an elaborate fraud” by Wakefield. In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I described the mother of another child in the Early Report, who had been interviewed by a man claiming to be “Brian Lawrence” from the Sunday Times, who turned out to be Deer. Quotes from that six-hour “interrogation,” as she described it, ended up in the BMJ. She complained to the Sunday Times at the time, which did not apologize but also did not run any quotes from the interview.
Allegations that Deer gained access to confidential information about the children in the case series have been made for years but largely ignored by press and public officials focused on what they asserted was misconduct by Wakefield – and concerned to protect a vaccination program they said it threatened (the BMJ represents the British Medical Association and is sent to more than 100,000 doctors, many of whom have stakes in vaccine usage). However, the attention has shifted in recent days to the quality of the evidence against Wakefield and how it was obtained, as phone hacking, police bribery and other crimes have roiled the Murdoch newspaper empire – of which the Sunday Times is the crown jewel in Great Britain.
The confidentiality issue, however, had been raised even earlier and at a much higher level – in 2005, in the House of Lords, following Deer's first report on Wakefield in 2004 in the Sunday Times. Here are written answers (in italics) from the government to an inquiry from Countess Mar, a member of the House of Lords, on January 10, 2005:
Data Protection Act 1998
The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether under the Data Protection Act 1998 a hospital may release to a journalist confidential documents relating to patients, including clinical findings and descriptions of medical procedures on children who can be identified; and, if not, whether it is in the public interest for the Department of Health website "MMR the facts" to include a link to the website of the Sunday Times journalist Brian Deer. [HL364]"
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): "While the Data Protection Act 1998 does not prevent clinicians sharing information for necessary medical purposes, the confidential nature of health data prevents it being disclosed more widely unless: identifying information has been removed or anonymised; the individuals concerned have given their consent to disclosure; there is a statutory obligation to disclose or a court order requiring disclosure—it is in response to a court order; there is an overriding public interest (for example to protect public health).
The "MMR the facts" website has been put together by the Immunisation Information team at the Department of Health. The information team makes available a range of materials designed to provide both parents and health professionals with the latest information on immunisation. As is common practice, it provides links to other sources of information that will help inform the public interest and debate in the topic. As noted on the site, the department is not responsible for the content or reliability of linked websites, and linking should not be taken as endorsement of any kind."
Immediately after the BMJ article by Deer appeared this past January, Isabella Thomas wrote several times to BMJ Editor Fiona Godlee, to demand answers about its continuing use of information about her son.
“I am writing to you because of my concern regarding Brian Deer’s articles in the BMJ,” began one of the letters. “I did respond to the article asking how you came to the serious decision that it was fraud. To date you have not published my response yet again.
“I want to ask how could you compare the GP records and the hospital records of my children unless you have them in your procession? As it involves my children and you did not make contact with any of the Lancet families, I would like to know what evidence Brian Deer has shown you to make you reach this conclusion?”
Thomas also pointed out that Deer had quoted from an electronic Blackberry message sent to her by Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, at the start of a General Medical Council proceeding against Wakefield and two colleagues instigated by Deer. “My own view,” Deer quoted Horton as writing to Thomas, “is that the GMC is no place to continue this debate. But the process has started and it will be impossible to stop.”
How, she wanted to know, did Deer gain access to that?
Thomas told me that since this series of articles began she has spoken to a Member of Parliament who "is backing me on the issue of Brian Deer holding medical information on my boys who were part of the Lancet study.”
To all this, the response from the BMJ, the official house organ of Britain’s medical establishment: Silence. Even if it has assured itself that there are no ethical or legal breaches in the way the information it published was obtained, that may not be a tenable position in the long run, considering how closely its claim of fraud is linked to the reporting Deer did for Murdoch’s enterprise.
Separately, just as the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks of News International – the News Corp. division that includes the Sunday Times -- were appearing before Parliament last week, another MP Bob Stewart of Beckenham, submitted a written request: “To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if she will assess the adequacy of the police investigation into the activities commissioned by The Sunday Times of the freelance journalist Mr Brian Deer in relation to the acquisition of children's medical records and information from (a) the Royal Free Hospital and (b) other sources between 2003 and 2005."
James Murdoch, who oversees the British newspaper group, is now under fire after three former executives charged he lied to Parliament when he said he did not know about phone hacking at the Sunday Times’ sister paper, the now-shuttered News of the World, when he approved a large settlement to a soccer star.
Ignorance, it seems, is no longer a convincing excuse.
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.
HOORAH!! then keel haul them....
PCC chair reportedly to retire after NoW phone hacking scandal
Posted by: Angus Files | July 29, 2011 at 01:17 AM
From above: Judge Leveson said:-
"At some stage, there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good, to what extent the public interest should be taken into account and by whom."
Ah Yes!! The public interest again!! I think that means a meeting behind closed doors to decide what NOT to investigate!!
Posted by: Jenny Allan | July 28, 2011 at 05:51 PM
News of the World targeted Sarah Payne's mother's phone
Evidence found in private detective's notes believed to relate to phone which Rebekah Brooks gave to Sara Payne as gift
Posted by: Angus Files | July 28, 2011 at 03:57 PM
The independent and impartial Judge appointed by the UK Government to head the Inquiry into press ethics and integrity is a personal friend of Rupert Murdoch's daughter.
Posted by: Jenny Allan | July 28, 2011 at 07:48 AM
CNN statement denies Piers Morgan connection to phone hacking
A bit like Mr Deer can you hear the silence??
"But the emergence of the tape shows how sensitive the issue of phone hacking has become for all newspapers. Morgan, who is a Twitter enthusiast, has been conspicuously quiet on the issue of phone hacking since the scandal blew up three weeks ago."
Posted by: Angus Files | July 28, 2011 at 05:46 AM
How many of us vaccine warriors in the UK have had dealings with the MOJ ...I have as recent as two weeks ago knockbacking a FOI..one from Djanogly himself..The best is yet to come!!!
Minister Jonathan Djanogly faces investigation over 'blagging' by detectives
Posted by: Angus Files | July 27, 2011 at 06:24 PM
The Coulson affair: Guardian questions to Downing Street
Fourteen questions submitted by the Guardian to No 10 regarding Andy Coulson's vetting, and the answer we received
Posted by: Angus Files | July 27, 2011 at 05:39 PM
No 10 refuses to disclose Coulson's access to top-secret information
Posted by: Angus Files | July 27, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Times accused of deflecting phone-hacking row with 'repugnant' cartoon
'Cynical' cartoon by Peter Brookes showing emaciated African children used 'racist caricatures', say academics in letter
Posted by: Angus Files | July 27, 2011 at 05:20 PM
James Murdoch back to chair BSkyB board meeting
"If it doesn't stack up, I'm afraid they will have to take action." Ahead of the Murdochs' parliamentary appearance, GlaxoSmithKline ,
Britain's biggest drugmaker, said James would continue to serve as a non-executive director but that it would watch investigations into the phone-hacking scandal."
Posted by: Angus Files | July 27, 2011 at 04:58 PM
9/11 phone-hacking claims: families to meet US attorney general
Norman Siegel represents 20 families who lost family members on 9/11. 'We want a thorough investigation to determine what happened,' he said. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters
Posted by: Angus Files | July 27, 2011 at 04:37 PM
The Act does, however, provide a number of defences, including that "the obtaining, disclosing or procuring was necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime", or "that in the particular circumstances the obtaining, disclosing or procuring was justified as being in the public interest".
That ain't a code of conduct, that's Marxism.
com-bin-a-tion - noun, often attributive \ˌkäm-bə-ˈnā-shən\ an alliance of individuals, corporations, or states united to achieve a social, political, or economic end
Posted by: Media Scholar | July 26, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Osborne met News International chiefs 16 times since election
Posted by: Angus Files | July 26, 2011 at 02:55 PM
The Goodman case
17. Clive Goodman was the former royal editor of the News of the World and a full-time member of staff at the paper. Together with a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, Mr Goodman illegally accessed voicemail messages left for members of the Royal Family and other high-profile figures, and used the information gathered to construct news stories. In January 2007, both Mr Goodman and Mr Mulcaire were convicted of conspiracy to intercept communications without lawful authority. Both received custodial sentences, four months' imprisonment in the case of Clive Goodman, six months in the case of Glenn Mulcaire. The Editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, accepted that he took ultimate responsibility for Mr Goodman's actions and resigned. The press world claimed to be shocked at the offences, and no witness attempted to defend Mr Goodman's actions. The Editors' Code Committee described his case as "a clear breach of both the law and Code" and noted that the strength and validity of the Code in that area was not at issue.
Posted by: Isabella Thomas | July 26, 2011 at 03:31 AM
CONTROLS UNDER THE LAW AND THE CODE OF PRACTICE
15. Obtaining information by subterfuge, clandestine devices or interception of communications is a breach of Clause 10(i) of the Code of Practice except when carried out in the public interest. Such activities are, however, likely to be in breach of the Regulation and Investigatory Powers Act 2000 unless carried out with lawful authority. No public interest defence is available under the 2000 Act, although it is possible that the public interest value of information obtained illegally could be weighed in any decision by the Crown Prosecution Service on whether or not to proceed with a prosecution against a journalist.
16. Further controls exist under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998, under which "a person must not knowingly or recklessly, without the consent of the data controller (a) obtain or disclose personal data or the information contained in personal data, or (b) procure the disclosure to another person of the information contained in personal data". The penalty for breach of section 55 is a fine of up to £5,000 in a magistrates' Court or an unlimited fine in the Crown Court. The Act does, however, provide a number of defences, including that "the obtaining, disclosing or procuring was necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime", or "that in the particular circumstances the obtaining, disclosing or procuring was justified as being in the public interest". The Information Commissioner told us that the public interest defence under the Data Protection Act was robust and that his Office "would not dream of prosecuting, let alone a court convicting" if a journalist could show that information had been gathered without consent but that doing so was in the public interest.
Posted by: Isabella Thomas | July 26, 2011 at 03:25 AM
Christie's office claims privilege, backtracks
In a move to derail a challenge to Gov...
Posted by: Angus Files | July 26, 2011 at 01:47 AM
Yeppers, we need to fight back.
Posted by: Heidi N | July 26, 2011 at 01:01 AM
The code of conduct for journalists allows the use of illegally obtained information when it is in the public interest
The blur between government and private interests just went away.
A free man can not be so equal to a combination particularly one interested in obtaining private property by illegal means.
The not-so-secret policeman isn't so sure where he is in the world tonight, is he?
Does the press find itself content to hide behind the pretense 'we the people' are unknowing they are aptly the very ones society must be aware of?
py·ro·ma·ni·a - the impulse to deliberately start fires to relieve tension or for gratification or relief. Pyromania and pyromaniacs are distinct from arson and arsonists, whose motivations stem from psychosis, the pursuit of personal, monetary or political gain, or the intent to inflict harm for advantage or revenge.
What on earth could a code of conduct for the press possibly have to say about a journalist endeavoring to manufacture public interest, when, in fact, it is expressly a public interest manufacturing industry?
Posted by: Media Scholar | July 25, 2011 at 07:54 PM
So the question becomes: What do WE need to do to assure this story doesn't get buried? Again.
Posted by: Zed | July 25, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Now how did Deer manage to live during the bare years of the Dr Wakefield hunt ??
Chris Stott ponders whether Murdoch needs to worry about the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA):
"In some circumstances, where wrongdoing has been ongoing, POCA reverses the usual burden of proof and all of a defendant's assets will be confiscated unless he or she can prove they are not the proceeds of crime. The process frequently drives individuals to insolvency and threatens the viability of even the most successful companies. The appetite for pursuing confiscation vigorously against wealthy corporate defendants is stronger than it has ever been."
Posted by: Angus Files | July 25, 2011 at 04:42 PM
The code of conduct for journalists allows the use of illegally obtained information when it is in the public interest, and that will no doubt be Deer's defence if he ever has to face these questions. Whoever gave him the information would be very hard to track down after so many years.
The editors of the BMJ would have a harder time defending the misuse of patient records, and may be more vulnerable if the issue gains attention.
Posted by: GH | July 25, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Wakefield's Lancet article was run in 1998. Brian Deer did not respond until 2003?
That's a huge, annoying gap in terms of intellectual authenticity. A giant, pesky chasm to speak of for think-tank legitimacy. A mega-size, flea-biting hollow in reference to smart verification. One tremendous, taxing betwixt for scholarly consideration.
If Bingo from the rock band Spew Monkey Spew has a bang with Chera DaDiva; and perverts hiding behind media credentials take some snaps, naughty bits and all; even the British Socialisticalifragilisticexpialidocioustotalitarian tabloid press is smart enough to not wait five whole years to run it.
The British Medical Journal is NOW a war journal featuring non-medical crap written by a freaking totally wooden Trojan horse as a source, of course.
Coffee is good for you. Coffee is bad for you. The truth depends who pays the most, and not reality.
Posted by: Media Scholar | July 25, 2011 at 04:08 PM
R.E.Horton..Surely if Deer hacked phones he to was going to pervert ....the course of court action ..
"Hacking into solicitors' phones would be very serious indeed, and we urge the police to carry out a full investigation. If hacking was carried out with the intention of undermining court action, it might well constitute an attempt to pervert the course of justice, which is a serious criminal offence.
"It is a shocking breach of the privacy of both solicitors and their clients. I will also be writing to Lord Justice Leveson [the judge leading the phone-hacking inquiry] asking him to investigate these allegations."
Posted by: Angus Files | July 25, 2011 at 04:03 PM
It was always about the British establishment (and whoever lay behind them) being prepared to allow his extravagant and what should have been highly embarrassing performance to continue unimpeded.
Posted by: John Stone | July 25, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Personally, I no longer believe this is about the personal integrity of Brian Deer .. nor .. the veracity of all Deer has written or alleged.
I believe its NOW about the journalistic integrity and veracity of the editors of two former prestigious publications .. the BMJ and the Lancet .. because .. by choosing to publish his comments .. their publications have awarded Brian Deer a legitimacy that he does not deserve .. nor .. do I believe .. can be defended.
I any event .. I do not envy these two editors .. if I had to choose someone to defend from my foxhole when the shooting starts .. it sure as heck would not be Brian Deer.
Posted by: Bob Moffitt | July 25, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Personally I'd like to see Wakefield interview Cooper and the others who gave him no chance to speak--and see what they have to say now. That would really make my day.
Posted by: Maurine Meleck | July 25, 2011 at 12:55 PM
What we have had all along is the selective leaking of documents with all the organs of the British state turning a blind eye: then they turn round and say it is too late to do anything, it is in the public domain anyway now and it was in the public interest. But, of course, a state which operates like this is out of control, and it needs people to do its dirty work..
Posted by: John Stone | July 25, 2011 at 12:15 PM
I mentioned this on the previous article, but I am quite shocked at the amount of duplicity leveled by the false skeptics. They continue to remark at how unethical Dr Wakefield was, yet refuse to acknowledge Mr Deer's unethical behaviour. In fact, the louts continue to PRAISE him for it.
Posted by: j-insanity | July 25, 2011 at 10:42 AM
I posted the following on part one of this series. I remember closely following CNN's coverage of Brian Deer's allegations against Wakefield in Jan. CNN elevated Deer to hero status. Citing the British Medical Journal and the British Times gave a lot of credibility to Deer's claims. One thing was obvious however, no one at CNN had talked to a single Lancet parent. They were more than willing to take the word of Brian Deer that he had. Deer told CNN that he had directly or indirectly had talked to six of the 12 Lancet parents. So where was even one of them when CNN covered this story? It's clear that Deer's purpose was to discredit Wakefield--using any means possible--and turn the focus away from the MMR had done to these children.
On Jan 7, 2011, CNN reported on Andrew Wakefield with interviews with Brian Deer.
Brian Deer on CNN http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzNDyjj3D1M
CNN said Wakefield's work was "unethical."
CNN said Brian Deer "really blew the lid off this story."
In his interview, Deer called Wakefield "a determined cheat."
On a clip of the interview with Anderson Cooper, Wakefield asked, "Who brought this man in, who is paying this man?" in reference to Deer.
Deer laughed and said that he was "an investigative journalist working for the TIMES since the early 1980s."
Deer also said it wasn't him saying it, it was the editors of the British Medical Journal.
He said the BMJ was peer reviewed and that they "individually checked the facts" that Deer had presented.
"It's not me saying. It's that editors of that journal."
"I was commissioned by the British Medical Journal to write the piece."
Going after Wakefield, said Deer, "was a routine journalistic assignment...on [Wakefield's] campaign of lies."
CNN referred to Wakefield's "study" -- not his paper in the Lancet.
Deer on CNN http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_zzoM0Ukbs
"The facts have all been checked."
"I have done the work and my evidence has been thoroughly checked."
Deer then said he thinks criminal charges should be filed against Andrew Wakefield.
Deer on CNN http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/07/video-journalist-brian-deer-responds-to-dr-andrew-wakefield/
Deer said the BMJ checked his facts "exhaustively."
Anderson Cooper described Deer as "an independent journalist who's won many awards."
Cooper asked Deer if he was being paid by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries."
Deer said he was paid by the TIMES.
Deer said that none of Wakefield's medical records on his Lancet children were accurate.
Cooper asked Deer if he'd spoken to any of the parents, and Deer said, "I personally interviewed one, two, three families of the twelve. ...Two others were interviewed on my behalf by other journalists. ...And I had conversations with another, so quite a substantial number."
Cooper: "So you're basically saying he falsified or got wrong all the medical histories in one way or another."
Deer: "I showed the Lancet paper... to a father of child number 11, and he looked at the paper... and he said, 'that's not true.'"
Deer said Wakefield's work hadn't been replicated anywhere.
Cooper asked Deer what has angered him most about Wakefield.
Deer said that the real needs of kids with developmental disorders haven't been met. He said we need more research and better services.
Anne Dachel, Media
Posted by: Anne McElroy Dachel | July 25, 2011 at 10:33 AM
It is a shame that the parent's must go around the mulberry bush about the data protection act of 98 that medical records are private.
We all know that is not really truly the problem, it is that Brian Deer got ahold of the records and twisted it, lied, and if caught in this lie will claim that is how he saw it. That is what he is really guilty of.
So is there a government ACT on the books titled "The anti twist the Data Act"?
Posted by: Benedetta | July 25, 2011 at 09:35 AM
I can't wait for the next chapter of this sordid affair to come out. Hopefully, continued evidence of Murdoch's manipulation of "the news" to fit his political and personal agenda will come out and we will get to see an 80 year old man, and his son doing the Perp Walk. Even better would be to see the two of them in a prison for the rest of their lives.
Posted by: Harry H. | July 25, 2011 at 08:59 AM
In the past the same questions have been asked by Mrs Thomas and the Lancet parents and no answers have been forthcoming .I just pray that some of the mud around just now sticks to Deer and his mentor Murdoch as neither are fit to print stories in National International newspapers.
History will record Rupert Murdoch as the most powerful media mogul of modern times, but the events of the last few weeks have suggested a changing of the old guard.
"Questions are now being asked about Murdoch's leadership of the global media empire he created, and the identity of his successor. His son James Murdoch – so long assumed to be his heir apparent – is facing questions of his own in his dual role as News Corp deputy chief operating officer and chairman of satellite broadcaster BSkyB."
Old guard gives them some sort of credence??when did that happen??They have always been liars ,and will remain liars not fit to govern themselves ...
Well done Isabella
Posted by: Angus Files | July 25, 2011 at 07:27 AM
Dan, another centipede discovered. Good. Keep turning over rocks.
Posted by: Dan E. Burns - SavingBenBook.com | July 25, 2011 at 07:08 AM
Thank you Dan Olmstead and the Lancet parents who have allowed their names and correspondence to be used in this article.
One of the most disgraceful aspects of the Murdoch scandal is the way that CLEAR breaches of the UK laws on data protection and confidentially, have been virtually IGNORED by the police. Instead, clear evidence has emerged of Murdoch authorised payments to police officers for 'information',(and doubtless suppression of information).
I hope the UK police will finally be dragged 'kicking and screaming' to properly investigate this outrage and bring these perpetrators to justice.
Posted by: Jenny Allan | July 25, 2011 at 06:19 AM