Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Feature Secrets of the MMR scare

The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 18 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c7001

Rapid Response:

UK Legal Aid, Litigation and Expert Witnesses

This was Brian Deer's statement to Mr Horton at a Lancet meeting on
18th February 2004:-
'I told them that the paper's first author, Wakefield, was retained by a
lawyer and was funded to help sue vaccine manufacturers.' This assertion
by Brian Deer formed a major part of the GMC case against Wakefield, Murch
and Walker Smith.

To dispel any ambiguity: Dr Wakefield WAS
enlisted as an expert witness by MMR medical litigation lawyer Richard
Barr. Dr Wakefield was paid by the hour, pro rata, to compile reports and
possibly be an 'expert witness' during a court 'proof' hearing. This is
normal procedural practice for lawyers compiling evidence to be used in a
UK court of law.

I must stress that Dr Wakefield's fees for this work, would have been
paid directly to him via Richard Barr, who was responsible for
administering the childrens' Legal Aid awards; the money would NOT have
been paid directly to Dr Wakefield by the Legal Aid Board. This money was
legitimately earned by Dr Wakefield and was therefore his to spend as he
wished, apart from a UK tax liability of around 40%. If Dr Wakefield chose
to donate any of it to a charitable trust fund, then the tax liability
would have been waived under UK tax rules.

I feel that Mr Deer's use of the word 'funded' in his above statement
seems to imply that the Legal Aid Board awarded money directly to the
Royal Free Hospital for 'research'. Again, this does not happen under UK
Legal Aid rules. Richard Barr DID NOT arrange for my Grandson to have ANY
paid scopes or scans carried out at the Royal Free Hospital. These had
already been carried out as part of my Grandson's initial diagnostic
procedures at the Royal Free. The legal reports on him were based on these
previous tests and treatments, some of which are still ongoing. I cannot
comment on any other children's cases, but if Mr Barr recommended tests to
be carried out on any other children, as part of an evidence gathering
exercise, this will have been discussed and agreed with the parents
beforehand and paid for via Mr Barr, NOT the Legal Aid Board.

There is NOTHING illegal, unusual or 'fraudulent' about ANY of this.
It is USUAL PRACTICE in litigation cases to obtain reports and evidence
from suitably qualified experts; indeed expert testimony is a necessary
part of ALL litigation court proceedings. Many eminent clinicians and
scientists regularly act as expert witnesses in court cases.

Competing interests: My autistic Grandson was treated by Professors Walker Smith and Murch at the Royal Free Hospital. He has bowel disease but was not one of the Lancet 12 children. He was one of a large number of child MMR litigation clients of Richard Barr. My Grandson's parents applied for and were awarded UK Legal aid on his behalf. (These awards are granted to individuals on a means tested and merit basis).

09 February 2011
Jenny H Allan