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Open Letter to Sunday Times Editor John Witherow: ‘We wouldn’t do fishing’

WitherowBy John Stone

Yesterday the editor of The Times of London, James Harding, was forced to issue an apology over evidence he gave to the Leveson Inquiry into media standards in the UK, to a High Court judge, Mr Justice Eady (whose name will be known to regular AoA readers) and to a Mr Richard Horton (a policeman, not to be confused with editor the Lancet). Age of Autism now requests that the editor of The Times’s sister Murdoch newspaper, John Witherow, answer equally pertinent questions about his evidence.

Dear Mr Witherow,

Following the admission of your colleague James Harding that he had given erroneous evidence to the Leveson Inquiry I am writing regarding your statement in your oral evidence to Lord Leveson on 17 January 2012 that ‘We wouldn’t do fishing’. This statement would appear to be contradicted by the Sunday Times hired journalist, Mr Brian Deer, concerning the inception of his investigation of Andrew Wakefield. Deer stated in an article in British Medical Journal :

'For me the story started with a lunch. So many do. “I need something big,” said a Sunday Times section editor. “About what?” I replied. Him: “MMR?”'

The editor in question, Paul Nuki, was apparently the son of Prof George Nuki who sat on the Committee on Safety in Medicines in 1987  when a known-to-be defective version of the MMR vaccine, Pluserix, was being considered for license  . Pluserix was not withdrawn till 1992. The younger Nuki subsequently went on to manage the National Health Service’s main website, NHS Choices .

Equally anomalous was the fact that Deer, with the permission of the newspaper, interviewed two litigant members of the public under a false name, although they were told that he was from the Sunday Times . This may be because of an earlier “investigation” by Mr Deer into Margaret Best, whose son was damaged by DPT vaccine, however it is hard to see why this would have been necessary unless Mr Deer had an agenda which could not be fulfilled by another journalist using their own name. What was at stake, given that this was not an ordinary “under-cover” type investigation?

There were many irregularities to this investigation, including the accessing of confidential medical and legal documents and the names of the “Lancet children” were published by Deer on the web between 2004 and 6 long before he was granted access to such document by Mr Justice Eady for limited legal purposes . However, I also wonder whether you were aware that immediately after Deer’s first report on the story he had made formal complaints to the GMC against Wakefield and colleagues and had an undisclosed vested interest in the favourable outcome of the prosecution, and that from 2005 he had a formal secret arrangement with the GMC’s lawyers not to be named as the complainant (to their mutual benefit) . Plainly, this was a most unusual conflict for a journalist: I note in your written testimony you state that a journalist’s conflict should be disclosed  and I believe the Sunday Times still have duty over this one.

I noted down two other fine phrases from you oral evidence “We make sure our journalists behave in a proper way” and “the editor is ultimately responsible”. I therefore request that you offer an early explanation of these matters for which you are palpably responsible.


John Stone (UK Editor, Age of Autism)


Deborah Nash

Brilliant John - I hope they squirm.
Your gentle tone, as always, hides your razor sharp knowledge.


What a cesspool. Let's manifest a huge win for Dr. Wakefield and his council! Vote Ron Paul!

Angus Files

What about reporting the whole thing to the Serious fraud squad(SFO)

I tried before and during this time Deer removed the names of the Lancet kids from his site..coincidence I doubt it..

What is fraud?


is a type of criminal activity, defined as:-

'abuse of position, or false representation, or prejudicing someone's rights for personal gain'.

Put simply, fraud is an act of deception intended for personal gain or to cause a loss to another party.
•The general criminal offence of fraud can include:
•deception whereby someone knowingly makes false representation,
•or they fail to disclose information,
•or they abuse a position.

Well done John

John Stone


I have been in touch with the Inquiry team on a number of occasions, have presented them with evidence but have thus far not been called upon to be a witness.


Robin Rowlands

Apologies have been distracted with other matters . . .
Have you filed a formal complaint with - Lord Justice Leveson - and asked to attend . . . If so what was their response . . .

Robin Rowlands


“We make sure our journalists behave in a proper way”and “the editor is ultimately responsible”

Maybe Lord Justice Leveson should be asking John Witherow to qualify these statements, in particular the fact that Brian Deer used a false name.

Where would we be if everyone went around using false names in order to obtain information? Disgraceful.

Let's keep the pressure on and make sure it is common knowledge.

Jenny Allan

Wonderful John Stone!! I am sure that Leveson intends to 'bypass' the role played by Murdoch's Sunday Times over the Wakefield/MMR issues, but any so called 'inquiry' into press standards MUST address these disgraceful issues.

Keep at 'em!! ....and keep us informed.


Our "soap opera" writers couldn't write a better "saga" than this!

Elizabeth Gillespie

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