Eighteen months after University College London, the parent institution of the Royal Free Hospital, announced their intention of holding an inquiry into the “Wakefield affair” in a controversial BBC radio documentary they have finally backed down according to a report by Zosia Kmietowicz in British Medical Journal. The decision represents a particular defeat for BMJ and its editor Fiona Godlee, who had been pressing for the inquiry after long delays in setting up. At one point Godlee – in November 2011 - appealed in vain to the UK House of Commons and Science and Technology Committee to take over from UCL, but UCL insisted that a chairperson would be appointed and terms of reference published by the end of the year. This never happened.
Now Kmietowicz reports:
“In a paper on the development of its new framework, UCL said that after taking advice from the UK Research Integrity Office and “a senior legal figure” it concluded that “the net result [from an investigation] would likely be an incomplete set of evidence and an inconclusive process costing a substantial sum of money.”
However, she fails to mention that this follows the complete exoneration of John Walker-Smith, the senior author and clinician in the 1998 Wakefield-Lancet paper, in the English High Court earlier this year. Sir John Mitting threw out all the findings of the General Medical Council against Walker-Smith hearing where he had stood accused with Andrew Wakefield and Simon Murch – while Murch as the more junior clinician had been allowed to resume his career after the three year hearing, Wakefield was not funded as Walker-Smith had been to pursue his appeal, and it presently lies in abeyance. The charges against all three were entirely based on accusations by journalist Brian Deer whom the Sunday Times had originally sent on a fishing expedition against Wakefield.
Though only Walker-Smith was cleared Mitting established with legal force that many of the accusations of Deer, which had subsequently been re-hashed by him as fraud allegations against Wakefield in BMJ, were without foundation. It was shown that the children in Wakefield paper had been seen and investigated purely on the basis of clinical need, that the paper had not been funded by the Legal Aid Board, that it was as described an early report and not based on a research protocol and that the histories were accurately reported, as had been the means of referral. These findings were accepted by the GMC, and not challenged by the Council in the Court of Appeal.
This must surely have been the final
unspoken nail in the coffin of the UCL inquiry but things were obviously
already beginning to unravel last November when BMJ refused to publish the
report of into Deer’s allegations by distinguished US scientist David Lewis of
the National Whistleblower’s Center and the matter was taken up in Nature News by Eugenie Samuel Reich. Lewis forwarded his investigation
both to UCL and UK Research Integrity Office, mentioned by Kmietowicz in her
report. While Lewis has been subjected to shameful abuse by Deer and others
there is no doubt that he has won the day.
John Stone is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.