Intended for healthcare professionals


The Bristol affair

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 05 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1592

“Dispatches” programme was painstakingly researched and did not attract writ for defamation

  1. James Garrett, Head of current affairs
  1. HTV West, Bristol BS4 3HG
  2. Academic Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary and Westfield College, London E1 4NS
  3. Royal United Hospital, Bath BA1 3NG

    EDITOR—It was my programme in March 1996 about the Bristol heart surgery tragedy, for Channel 4's current affairs series Dispatches, that prompted the General Medical Council (GMC) to investigate what, it subsequently became clear, was the medical scandal of the century. Since then I and my colleagues have continued to report on these cases. I wish to reply to Dunn's allegations about media reporting of the tragedy; I am, presumably, one of those whom he pronounces guilty of “using a sustained stream of biased, misleading, and often inaccurate information.”1

    According to Dunn, bereaved parents should direct their grief and anger over the death of their children towards people like me, rather than the surgeons who operated on the children and have since been found guilty of serious professional misconduct. “Shoot the messenger” is the age old response of those who dislike the message.

    The Dispatches programme was researched painstakingly over many months to ensure the accuracy of the story it told. Had it been “misleading” or “inaccurate” it would surely have attracted a writ for defamation from one or more of the three doctors who were named. However, no writ followed the original programme or any of …

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