So, "MMR doctor" Andrew Wakefield has been found guilty by a statutory tribunal of the UK's General Medical Council (GMC) of some three dozen charges, including four counts of dishonesty, including research fraud, and 12 involving the abuse of developmentally-challenged children. His now-notorious 1998 paper in the Lancet medical journal, published from the Royal Free medical school, London, which triggered a baseless health crisis, has been retracted. Two more have been retracted or withdrawn. And he has been ousted from a $280,000-a-year sinecure in Austin, Texas, by Jane Johnson, director of a controversial franchise - "Defeat Autism Now!" - widely criticised as a network of quacks.
Now there's not much left of him - either in the UK or the US - apart from the rump of his pitiful network. Although almost literally a handful of individuals in the UK, and some with no link to MMR or autism at all, they've insinuated themselves among affected families and do little but cause distress with false claims. Their prime aim is to snipe at my award-winning Sunday Times, Channel 4 Television and British Medical Journal investigation, which nailed the scare, helped to restore public confidence, and heaved Wakefield into the dustbin of medicine.
The most startling array of particularly nauseating falsehoods were authored by a now-64-year-old failed graphic artist who calls himself "Martin J Walker". He lives penniless in Spain, but in July 2007 surfaced in London at mammoth hearings (triggered by my investigation) of a GMC "fitness to practise" disciplinary panel. He claims to be some kind of "health activist" and "writer", but although generally of no consequence, is a relentless peddler of smear and denigration, with a track record of latching onto the vulnerable. These he beguiles, like he's their new best friend, and then he tries to sell them self-published junk books, or better-still, have them give him money.
"I am 60 next year and I have been and am now, utterly broke and also in debt to various people for relatively large amounts of money," he explained in a private email not long before he spotted in the Wakefield case what he thought was a financial opportunity. "I am not a writer to whom agents and publishers have ever paid the slightest attention."
It's disappointing that any energy needs to be diverted from a public interest investigation with global impact to this buffoon with mental or characterological issues. Moreover, the lofty-sounding Martin J Walker's malevolent interest in the GMC began some years ago in bizarre circumstances, according to doctors, when his former girlfriend ran off with the council's then chief executive. But Walker's recent tirades have focused on me: deploying a well-worn modus operandi.
Over the years this man's antics have embraced him fantasising phone calls from me and meetings with doctors that never occurred. But the core of his activities is based on an infantile obsession to try to link me with drug companies. This is notwithstanding (or more likely because) I'm well-known for investigating them, with even an earlier award citation. In an ill-written 60-page online diatribe, published at a particularly deranged cranksite, for example, he has claimed - entirely falsely - that I've been supported by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), and with the implication that I'm concealing this misconduct. Among other things, for example, he told anyone foolish enough to visit the cranksite:
"In neither his Sunday Times article nor the Dispatches programme nor on his web site does Brian Deer make reference to a company called MedicoLegal Investigations Ltd (MLI). MLI is a private company, controlled and almost completely funded by the ABPI that has an agreed representation on its board. The company played a leading part in Deer's investigation, and helped prepare the case against Wakefield to go before the GMC."
Later, in a further, 22-page, rant - primarily trying to smear Surendra Kumar, a family doctor and chair of the five-member GMC panel - Walker went further. Here he accused me of a conspiracy with MLI to mislead readers of The Sunday Times:
"As anyone who has been following the GMC hearing will know, the prosecution that is the GMC, fell hook, line and Murdoch owned Sunday Times sinker for Deer's story that had been concocted with the help of Medico-Legal Investigations."
Walker honed abuse on others
These false, defamatory (and badly-written) allegations are obviously serious for a professional journalist such as myself, and have been extensively developed and embellished by Walker with invention and snide innuendo. As so often with such characters, it's an established technique: Walker has honed his abuse on others. In recent years, for example, he has run smear campaigns against the reputations of two doctors who also write on MMR - Michael Fitzpatrick and Ben Goldacre - as if, more than anything, he's motivated by envy for those who've succeeded where he has failed.
Now he has lighted on me with an astonishing four-year smear campaign for which there's not the slightest basis in truth. In the case of MLI, for instance, other than to be interviewed by me (which is, after all, what journalists do), MLI played no role at all in my investigation, let alone a "leading part", as Walker invents. It wasn't involved in any way in the preparation of my stories. And, to my certain knowledge, MLI played no role whatsoever in preparing the GMC's successful case against Wakefield.
But truth doesn't do it for the smearmaster Walker. He has conspiracy on his mind. This is his livelihood. A small businessman in falsehood, he needs to come up with the goods, using a grubby witch-hunt style of implication:
"Brian Deer disclosed in his main Sunday Times article about Dr Wakefield after he had presumably spoken to him, that the then Minister for Health, John Reed [Walker means I had presumably spoken with the then-secretary of state for health, John Reid] had called for the case of Dr Wakefield to be referred to the GMC... Reed's shunting of Dr Wakefield's case into the GMC represents the most serious conflict of interest and manifest corruption."
By chance, I've never met or spoken with Reid. But, for Walker, we're in it together. He deploys a disgusting, gutter, style of character assassination: what you'd do if you were a malicious fool with no facts.
The truth is rather different, and rather awkward for Walker, as he seeks to sponge off families hit by autism. As would be the duty of any responsible investigative journalist, tackling a serious, complex issue such as MMR, my inquiries involved interviews with hundreds of sources, drawn from many relevant backgrounds and viewpoints. The first of these interviews was with Jackie Fletcher of the litigation and campaign group JABS. The second was with a litigant, and close Wakefield collaborator, Rosemary Kessick of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. And another of these hundreds of interviews was with a doctor-lawyer called Jane Barrett, who works with MLI.
Why MLI? Well, it's a respectable business, with a track record of evaluating conduct. Usually it's that of doctors faking medical research while employed by drug firms or health bodies. You'd think that Walker, if he genuinely cared about the integrity of medicine, would welcome the company's objectives and achievements. MLI's sometime chairman, Dr Frank Wells, for example, is co-editor of a highly regarded book called "Fraud and Misconduct in Biomedical Research". It was published by the BMJ.
In my interview with Barrett, we discussed the role of ethics committees and the EU clinical trials directive. This is routine research for journalists: a staple of professional reporting. Walker wouldn't grasp this - since he fabricates his material - but we do this kind of stuff every day. Moreover, it wasn't hidden, as Walker implies, but has been declared by me - for example in legal papers served on Wakefield in 2005:
"3.87. The Third Defendant additionally carried out numerous interviews and studied various publications concerned with the ethics of research, including discussions with the editors of The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, Department of Health sources, the chair of the RFH ethics committee, Dr Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who maintains a special interest in medical ethics, Dr Jane Barrett, a doctor and lawyer with Medico-Legal Investigations, RFH doctors, and others."
No doubt, MLI - who I first stumbled on during a Sunday Times investigation in 1997 - hoped that a namecheck in the paper might be good for its business. But, as it turned out, no interview material was used, or even relied upon in anything published. However, in much the same way that the Lancet's editor, Richard Horton, issued a press notice following a meeting with me in 2004, MLI was evidently so excited to be interviewed at all that it trumpeted the fact on its website. Nowhere, in a far-from-conspiratorial online reference, does it claim to have investigated anything, or to have collaborated with me. It didn't.
Would it have mentioned me on its website if it had?
Stupidity aside, underlying Walker's message is the insinuation that I'm on the take. On this point, his smearing snidery came to the fore early on. In 2007, he peddled this filth:
"One unanswered question remains writ large, 'Does anyone other than the Sunday Times newspaper, fund Brian Deer to carry out this work?'"
Martin J Walker taking money
As so often in such things, the truth is the mirror-image: it has been Martin J Walker taking money from vested interests. "In the beginning and at different occasions, autism-related individuals in the US have supported my work," he admitted in a secret May 2009 request for cheques which would help him complete a false account of the GMC's proceedings and to continue his abuse of me. "Recently, however, I have had to depend on the parents of vaccine-damaged children who support Dr Wakefield."
I find such conduct sickening, but it doesn't surprise me. The MMR issue has often been plunged to such depths. Upon the backs of families, struggling with disability, have climbed lawyers, their "experts", pliable journalists and moronic "writers", who, in the end, contributed nothing, but walked away replete, having fed upon the pickings of misinformation.
For me, there's a relationship between truth and freedom. It's what brought me into journalism in the first place. That's one reason why my work on MMR has been supported solely on a proper basis: with no income from any source with any agenda. Apart from a cheque I received from Wakefield's lawyers, on his behalf, and payments for contributions to the BMJ, my investigation has been financed solely by Times Newspapers Ltd and Channel 4 Television. Nobody else - but me - has contributed one cent.
Walker hints I'm on the take because he is.
My dealings with the GMC, meanwhile, have also been proper: the entirely professional supply of journalistic findings to a statutory regulator. My public duty - and at the GMC's prior request. Although Wakefield has run his own campaign, ridiculously alleging that I'm the complainant in the case against him, Walker's reference to Reid makes it cut-glass clear that they know this isn't true. The GMC's investigation followed public uproar over my first reports, in February 2004, including a call for such an inquiry by Wakefield himself. It was carried out by the council's lawyers, Field Fisher Waterhouse and specialist counsel, who never notified me of the charges, or at any time discussed them with me.
The position was made plain at Wakefield's GMC hearing, when Sally Smith QC, in closing submissions for the prosecution, told the panel how the proceedings came about. "And that, you heard, was through an investigative journalist, Mr Deer, who made allegations in 2004 to Dr Horton, the editor of the Lancet, and in addition he wrote a lengthy article in The Sunday Times," she said on 16 March 2009. "Subsequently, the General Medical Council investigated what you also know is the complex background to the case. And I should remind you that the prosecution has been brought solely on the instructions of the General Medical Council. Mr Deer is not the complainant."
But Walker's "writings" about the 217-day proceedings - for which he slept in a grim hostel and arrived almost daily (often to doze or doodle) masked in clouds of acrid antiperspirant - almost invariably involved deceit. On 3 November 2008, for example, counsel for the defendants joined with the GMC in condemning the odious and odorous poison-penman's attempts to smear the chairman Kumar.
"During the course of the recent prolonged adjournment, the General Medical Council received correspondence enclosing what can best be described, I suppose, as an essay by a Martin J Walker raising potential issues of conflict of interest involving the chairman of this panel," its independent legal assessor, Nigel Seed QC, told the hearing. "There are set procedures that the GMC have which should be followed for all panel members in all cases of this nature to declare interests. Those procedures have been followed as far as Dr Kumar is concerned and there has been deemed to be no conflict of interest. I understand that every party agrees that there is no conflict of interest, notwithstanding this recent correspondence. Am I right in thinking that? (All parties agreed) Everybody agrees."
Seed, who sat beside the panel throughout, added: "Unfortunately this is not a court of law and does not have the benefit of contempt jurisdiction. Otherwise I might be giving a lot firmer advice to the panel."
Now, to continue this unpleasant-to-write narrative, here's the liar-for-hire Walker's tone, when, in his bid to shake money from families with autism, he wants his libels to sound high-flown:
"Brian remains isolated, a social pariah, who will undoubtedly be cast aside like a used condom when his benefit to the Department of Health and ABPI comes to an end."
It's little surprise that cranks and parasites, such as this man, have attached themselves to the MMR issue. Nor is it surprising that they should run dirty tricks campaigns in bids to damage the reputations of honest people. Walker's barn-door libels appear to be backed with no assets, but, long before his latest fundraising effort, he was stupid enough to have circulated letters promoting what he calls a "campaign against" me, for which he solicited help and - you guessed it - money. This must ring alarm bells for prejudice and malice: meaning that those who unwisely publish or distribute his deceits must be wary of the catastrophic risk.
With an eye on his backers' pocket-books, Walker's deceptions became desperate, squeezing smears from my slightest movements. In January 2009, for instance, he made up a moneyspinner about me joining a queue for GMC coffee (yes, indeed, a queue for coffee). In paragraphs published at another cranksite, he concocted an incident, which GMC staff confirm to me never happened. Although framed in terms that he must imagine protect him from any consequences, Walker started his narrative with a barefaced lie - claiming, with regard to Professor Simon Murch, one of Wakefield's co-defendants, that I:
"proceeded to knock into the witness, and standing level with him, turned to place [my] face directly in front of the witness almost nose to nose"
Walker then continued with typically grandiose commentary, founded upon his own fabrication (my underlining):
"There can be little doubt that if this account is correct, Deer's act was tantamount to the intimidation of a witness. What does this mean? In relation to legal situations generally, the intimidation of witnesses in any form has especially since the 1950s - through the criminal gang trials of the sixties and then into the anti-terrorist trials of the 1970s and 1980s - been considered one of the most serious charges that could be brought against someone acting inside or outside the court."
Having opined on the assumptions of his own base deceit, he satisfied his paymasters - who must have heartily chuckled - by fabricating further events. Again couched in terms that impart the libel, but apparently allow Walker to imagine that he protects himself by acknowledging that he may be making it up (my underlinings again):
"In relation to the GMC and it's hearing procedures, we might look briefly at what appears to have happened and then put it in context. Following the incident, a complaint was made to the GMC and it might be that everyone watched the CCTV footage of the incident. No reference was made to the incident publicly. We might assume that Mr Deer was spoken to by GMC staff and on the Wednesday when he next attended. Professor Murch was assigned a 'minder' as he left the hearing for a break."
Asked whether any of this was true, a GMC official confirmed that it wasn't. No CCTV footage was looked at, nobody spoke to me, and Murch was not assigned a minder. The whole thing was a concoction by the smearmaster.
And yet, once again - and almost unbelievably - here was another remarkable projection. Walker personally sought to interfere with a GMC witness, albeit after she concluded giving evidence to the panel. In August 2007, one of the parents of 12 children enrolled in Wakefield's research appeared for the doctors' regulator and gave critical insights into the conduct of the Royal Free project. Explaining how she had been convinced by another mother that her child with Asperger's was vaccine damaged - four years after he was vaccinated - she gave pivotal documents to the prosecution's lawyers and oral testimony on what had transpired. But the smearmaster not only remonstrated with her immediately after she left the witness chair, but he later self-published two junk "books" explicitly premised upon the lie that parents weren't allowed to take part.
Can there be many greater moral crimes than this man's conduct: deceiving the parents of disabled children while taking their money? What a way to hit old age. What a contemptible beast. I feel lost in the depth of his depravity.
Only a devious clown
The real tragedy, as ever, is the plight of the vulnerable: the true victims of the MMR fraud. It goes without saying that Walker spews forth greedy falsehoods - extending to faking "reports" of the GMC panel's hearing - with a view to inflaming beliefs, which he can turn into cash, that the regulator is corrupt, capricious, and incompetent. Then, his line goes, I'm hovering in the wings, with the drug industry, the government, and whoever else. Only a devious clown would believe this. Walker does. And no doubt he'll believe it until it refills his bank account: when those he dupes with such miserable fantasies send him money and/or buy his self-published books.
"Cheques should be made out to Martin J Walker," he says, promising free copies of his "most recent essays". It's an extraordinary scam by which he gets people he lies to - some rich with an agenda, others vulnerable and preyed on - to pay him for the privilege.
By December 2009, that scam reached its climax in a confidential email "newsletter". Kindly sent to me by an outraged father, it demanded a further £5,500 from Wakefield's network to pay Walker's "expenses plus minimal earnings". Presumably not realizing that some recipients would be disgusted by this approach, he again admitted receiving payments from vested interests, including "individual and generous vaccine damage campaigners in the United States". Then he proposed a grandiose - and, by his own averred creed, corrupt - ruse to finance more lies from the GMC:
"This time, in this Newsletter, I am asking not for contributions to my expenses, but for three people or so to get together and set up a fund for financing of my coverage, that would be paid into my account before the January and April - June hearings."
As it turned out, however, in this ruse he failed. The final stage of the proceedings, finishing Wakefield's career, went ahead without the smelly smearmaster.
So what's new? Not a lot. It's a mirroring behaviour. Walker looks at others, but sees only himself. For more than a decade, countless parents of autistic children have been misled, exploited and sponged-off by characters like him, who've profited while spreading confusion among the griefstruck. Until he was fired in the aftermath of my investigation, Wakefield himself earnt a reported $280,000 a year from his US autism business, Thoughtful House, launched off the back of his MMR campaign. And, according to Britain's Legal Services Commission, he pocketed £435,643, plus expenses, from a secret contract with just one British lawyer.
Any crusade relying on Wakefield was always bound to fail. His followers were doubly-victimised from the outset. And at a time when sheer decency should offer them help to find closure, Walker's marketing of hatred is a putrid footnote to this saga, which seems to go on without end.
Martin J Walker, the postscript: please send me more money
In November 2010, news of the buffoon Walker surfaced in a "newsletter" in which he tried to score yet more money. Bleating that he still had 900 unsold copies under his bed of his ridiculous "book" concoctions about the GMC hearing (no surprise there then), he said he needed another £1,500. "I think the time might have arrived for me to give up writing, or at least writing in aid of other people's causes," he promised, in a self-pitying emotional blackmail manoeuvre. "I have a few personal projects, that I would like to finish, but half way through next year I am going to try and leave writing and return to photography or ceramics."
My, how the truth can sting.