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Wilmshurst faces new libel claim over comments on freedom of speech

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d1984 (Published 28 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1984
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

The US manufacturer of medical devices that is suing the British cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst for libel in the High Court in London over comments he made about a clinical trial has launched a fresh libel claim against him.

NMT Medical, which is based in Boston, Massachusetts, claims that Dr Wilmshurst libelled the company on 27 November 2009 when he was interviewed for the BBC Radio 4 Today news programme about the chilling effect of the libel laws in England and Wales on scientific and medical debate.

The company issued the new claim on 26 November 2010 just within the one year deadline for launching a libel action and served it on Dr Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, on 24 March, shortly before the four month deadline for serving an action expired.

In the court papers NMT Medical says that Dr Wilmshurt accused it during the interview of concealing results from the trial of its STARFlex septal repair implant, on which he was the lead cardiology investigator.

The original libel action, which dates back to 2007 and is still ongoing, concerns remarks Dr Wilmshurst made to Heartwire, a US based online news service for cardiologists, about the conduct of the migraine intervention with STARFlex technology (MIST) trial (BMJ 2008;337:a2412, doi:10.1136/bmj.a2412).

The case has become a cause celebre for libel reform campaigners and was one of the catalysts for a draft defamation bill to reform the libel laws in England and Wales recently unveiled by the government (BMJ 2011;342:d1747, doi:10.1136/bmj.d1747). The draft bill requires libel claimants to prove that a publication caused their reputation significant harm but does not, as some campaigners demanded, bar companies from suing for libel.

The High Court required the company to pay £200 000 (€230 000; $320 000) into court as security for Dr Wilmshurst’s costs if it wanted to continue the case. It has paid the sum in four instalments but is likely to have to pay a much larger sum to take the case to trial.

Dr Wilmshurst’s solicitor, Mark Lewis, accused NMT Medical of “a feeble attempt at intimidation and bullying” in waiting a year to start the claim and then serving it at the last minute. He added, “Dr Wilmshurst is faced with having to waste more time to beat off such a brazen attempt to try and scare him.

“His answer as ever is that he will defend his words and that he spoke the truth. Rather than issue further proceedings, maybe they could try and get on with their initial claims.”

NMT Medical’s solicitor, Robert Barry, told the BMJ: “I’m not prepared to talk about it at the moment.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1984

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