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 Pluserix was not withdrawn till 1992.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)