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Read Carol Stott's tale on hate campaign (then weep for autistic kids' parents)

This page is material from the award-winning investigation by Brian Deer for The Sunday Times of London, the UK’s Channel 4 TV network and BMJ, the British Medical Journal, which exposed vaccine research fraudster Andrew Wakefield | Investigation summary

Part of the reason why the campaign against MMR by Andrew Wakefield took hold among some parents of autistic children is that progress in understanding these disorders has been slow, and the field often hasn't won either sufficient resources or the best and brightest professionals. When Brian Deer wrote to the British Psychological Society over Stott's conduct, her response - blaming allegations of a conspiracy between Cambridge University psychiatrists and a drug company - revealed the dismal calibre of some

1: Stott's hate mails > 2: Stott's weird explanation > 3: British Psychological Society ruling > 4: Cambridge Evening News coverage


[Address deleted] [phone number withheld]

British Psychological Society,
St Andrew’s House,
48 Princess Road East,
Leicester LE1 7DR. July 2 2004

Re: Carol Mary Stott, 41511

Dear Sir/Madam,

I wish to make a complaint under your society’s code of professional conduct against the above chartered psychologist.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Dr Stott - a person I had no previous knowledge of - began to harass me with malicious, abusive, threatening and obscene emails (attached). I’m a national newspaper journalist, and was able to locate Dr Stott and confront her (transcript attached). She lied, and the abuse continued. It then ceased after I sent a formal warning. Dr Stott replied, merely acknowledging that her language was “inappropriate”, and further insulted me.

Among my recent journalism has been an investigation of the MMR vaccine issue, leading to the retraction of claims that it was linked to autism. From the website of a business operated by Dr Stott, the “Cambridge Psychometrics and Autism Practice” (pages attached), I deduce that she has been a beneficiary of substantial legal aid money, paid to doctors and other specialists willing to attack the vaccine. This money has now been cut off, and I believe Dr Stott blames me.

I’m concerned by Dr Stott’s website, which seems intended to encourage the families of autistic children to sue somebody, and to retain Dr Stott for this purpose. In addition to my complaint about the harassment, I ask you to look at this site with a view to advising Dr Stott that the solicitation of legal complaints is improper for a chartered psychologist.

I don’t know what standards your society maintains, but I know what would happen if a medical practitioner were to harass members of the public in this manner. I believe that Dr Stott brings your profession into disrepute, and has forever clouded my view of Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre, where she is also employed.

Yours sincerely,

 

Brian Deer

 


Response to Brian Deer's allegations.

Dr. Carol Stott
Friday 28th January 2005

In his letter dated 2nd July Mr. Deer states that:

  • In the early hours of 30th June I had begun to `harass' him with malicious, abusive, threatening and obscene emails

    I had been a beneficiary of substantial legal aid money, paid to doctors and other specialists willing to `attack' the MMR vaccine. That the money has now been `cut-off and that I blame Mr. Deer for this

    That my website ...' seems intended to encourage the families of autistic children to sue somebody and to retain <Dr. Stott> for this purpose. In connection with this point Mr. Deer asks that you look at the site with a view to advising <Dr. Stott> that the solicitation of legal complaints is improper for a chartered psychologist.

  • I take each of these points in turn.

  • In the early hours of 30th June I had begun to `harass' Mr Deer with malicious, abusive, threatening and obscene emails
  • I acknowledge that the tone and language used in my emails to Mr. Deer was inappropriate and I offered him an apology to this effect within 24 hours of his receiving them. I would also like to add some additional comments.

    First I would like to emphasise that my actions in this instance were uncharacteristic and had been significantly contributed to by Mr. Deer's prior activity. I did not write the emails in a professional capacity and I at no point referred to my BPS affiliation nor my role as a psychologist. Furthermore, it was Mr. Deer's decision to place what were intended to be private emails in the public domain. Mr. Deer himself states, in his letter to you, that the reason he was able to `locate' me was because he is a `national newspaper journalist':

    What Mr. Deer refers to as harassment was actually a response, (responses are explicitly invited on his website), to his own unsubstantiated personal allegations in the public domain against a group of scientists with whom I have worked for several years. Furthermore, in respect of the allegation of harassment, it is important to note that I did not send anything that could be constituted as abusive following Mr. Deer's initial response to me. Finally, whilst my actions were not intended to constitute a professional response, I have acknowledged that they were not appropriate and apologised within 24 hours, at Mr. Deer's request.

    I would now like to provide some information in mitigation of my actions

    Mr. Deer has taunted the professional group of scientists of which I have been a member, consistently and for many months prior to my own actions, with accusations of poor scientific practice and implications regarding fraudulent data manipulation. He had accused those concerned of being `charlatans' and `quacks' and he had implied, in the public domain, that the work with which the group was involved had led to children's deaths. Additionally I had been led to believe, from more than one source, that Mr. Deer had stated his intention to `rub' people `out'. This was allegedly said in front of at least one witness. An allegation which Mr Deer has since denied.

    I wish to emphasise that I maintain my right as an experienced and professional scientist to engage in the pursuit of scientific enquiry without threat to my personal and professional integrity or my professional standing. Mr. Deer's behaviour over a significant period of time has resulted in my perceiving threats to all three.

    Over the last year there have been a number of serious complaints about Mr. Deer and his activities from various sources. These include complaints to the Press Complaints Commission, Channel 4 TV, local MPs and the Royal Free Hospital. The complaints have been taken sufficiently seriously for both the Royal Free Hospital and the parent concerned in the complaint to them, to seek advice from the police in respect of Mr. Deer's apparent access to confidential clinical information about individual patients and his subsequent placement of personal details on his web-site.

    Whilst I acknowledge that my own actions were inappropriate, and were a response to the personal allegations against me, as a member the group of scientists involved, I would like to emphasise that this action was taken after I had sought help and had explicitly stated my concerns to senior colleagues about Mr Deer's behaviour. Despite this approach I received no reasonable advice on how I might proceed.

    Specifically, when I expressed my concerns regarding Mr. Deer's activities to a senior colleague in the University of Cambridge Dept. of Psychiatry in March 2004 - several months before the alleged e-mailing incident - my colleague stated that he too had concerns about Mr. Deer (based on prior and unrelated experiences of his own) but simply suggested that I stop working in MMR research. He explained that his and other senior colleagues' reluctance to bring my work into the department - and thus provide a line of support - was because I was in danger of `sawing off the branch we are all sitting on'. He elaborated on this comment by suggesting that I `look at the departmental sources of funding'. It may be relevant to note in this context that a significant portion of departmental funding comes from Glaxo-Smith-Kline, who inherited a defendant's role in the MMR litigation from a parent company.

    Apart from suggesting that he too had concerns about Mr. Deer and that I should stop the MMR work because it was too political and placed departmental funding in jeopardy, no substantially different advice about how to deal with the perceived threat imposed by Mr. Deer's behaviour was ever forthcoming from any of my senior colleagues.

    In response to all of this, feeling powerless in the face of Mr. Deer's abuse of the group and without support from my academic colleagues in Cambridge, I acted personally, on one occasion, in what I immediately acknowledged to be an inappropriate manner.

    I now turn to the second of Mr. Deer's allegations:

    I had been a beneficiary of substantial legal aid money, paid to doctors and other specialists willing to `attack' the MMR vaccine, that the money has now been `cut-off y and that I blame Mr. Deer for this

    It is a matter of public record that I acted as an Expert Witness retained by the Claimant solicitors in the UK MMR-Autism litigation. My duty in carrying out this role was, at all times, a duty to the Court and I maintained this duty to the highest professional standard. I have at no point `attacked' the MMR vaccine. Furthermore, Mr. Deer's opinions, merely as a freelance journalist with an interest in the issue, had no relevance to court proceedings, and no impact whatsoever on the outcome.

    That <Dr: Stott's> website .... seems intended to encourage the families of autistic children to sue somebody and to retain <Dr. Stott> for this purpose.

    In connection with this point Mr. Deer asks that you look at the site with a view to advising <Dr. Stott> that the solicitation of legal complaints is improper for a chartered psychologist.

    There is a clear implication here of improper practice. In response I would like simply to state that I have never, at any time, `encouraged' families of autistic children to `sue’ anybody and I would challenge Mr. Deer to produce any evidence whatsoever to suggest otherwise.

    In his letter to you, Mr. Deer refers to the Cambridge Psychometrics and Autism Practice (CPA-Practice). At the time of the allegations Dr. Fiona Scott, Chartered Psychologist, and I shared a website providing information about this service but removed the website immediately on seeing that Mr. Deer was referring to it. CPA-Practice was merely a trading name used by Dr. Scott and myself to describe the work undertaken by us. Dr. Scott and I have always worked independently of each other. Following Mr. Deer's allegations however, Dr. Scott and myself have ceased to use the CPA-Practice trading name although we continue to work closely together. The reason for us taking this action is that following his allegations Mr. Deer referred to the CPA-Practice on his own website in the following way:

    `Their website indicates that Stott and Scott make money evaluating autistic children and advising parents. They stress "substantial experience in medico-legal and educational-legal expert witness work, " and built their business with taxpayers' money from a failed legal attack on MMR backed by Andrew Wakefield.'

    Because of the potentially defamatory content and the implications embedded in this reference to CPA-Practice, and because Mr. Deer made an explicit link, elsewhere on his site, between the University of Cambridge and CPA-Practice, Dr. Scott and I disabled access to the site during the week in which the allegations were made. Its full content, however, was made available at that time to the University Disciplinary panel investigating Mr. Deer's complaint. If you require a full dated copy of the entire website please do not hesitate to request this and I will provide it on CD. Mr. Deer has included what he considers to be relevant in his submission to you.

    In this context it should be noted that Dr Scott and I were involved in independent practice prior to our work as Expert Witnesses in the MMR-Autism litigation.

    The`business' to which Mr. Deer refers is simply a consultancy, which works on a fee-for -consultation basis. The only addition to the business following our involvement in the MMR-Autism litigation (other than ongoing running costs) was the. CPA-Practice website. The `taxpayers money' to which Mr Deer refers thus amounts to approximately 10 for the web-domain and 40 to host the site.

    From the outset, Dr. Scott and I have communicated regularly with the BPS with regard to the level of fees appropriate for both private consultancy and Expert Witness work and we have at all times worked well within, and frequently below, the fee guidelines given.

    It is also important to note that some time prior to Mr. Deer's complaint I had made available the full content of the CPA-Practice website, and full details of all of my professional activities, to Professor Ian Goodyer, in the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry. I took this course of action in order to state explicitly the nature of any private work that was being undertaken independently by me. No concerns were raised about the content of the website, nor about any of my work. Additionally, Professor Goodyer stated in writing that he considered there to be no conflict of interest in my various roles. He also made a general statement to the effect that he considered my professional integrity to be beyond question. The letter is currently in the possession of the University Department, as I was required to submit it during Disciplinary Proceedings, but I will request for this to be forwarded to you should you require it.

    I hope this information is useful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require anything further.

     

    Yours sincerely

    Dr. Carol M Stott

    BSc PhD (Cantab) CPsychol


    FROM: BRIAN DEER

    TO: THE BRITISH PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY CONDUCT PANEL

    DATE: FEBRUARY 5 2005

    RE: DR CAROL STOTT

    I’ve received your letter dated February 1 2005, concerning my complaint of July 2 2004, with regard to Dr Carol Stott’s conduct of June 2004. You enclose Dr Stott’s response, dated January 28 2005, and invite me to comment in advance of a meeting of your Conduct Panel scheduled for February 22 2005.

    Dr Stott admits the behaviour complained of. Given the evidence, she could hardly do otherwise. She invites the Panel to exonerate her conduct, essentially on the following grounds:

    (1) That I am a disreputable individual, who deserves to be abused.

    (2) That colleagues wouldn’t help because they are in the pay of a drug company.

    I will take these two, grossly defamatory, allegations in turn, and ask you to adjudicate my further complaint, set out below, that the content of the document she submitted - which she knew would be read by Society staff, by a formal panel and lay assessor, and by myself, a national newspaper journalist who she might reasonably expect to publish and be influenced by the contents - gravely aggravates her misconduct.

    (1) The claim that I am a disreputable individual

    I am a national newspaper journalist, employed by The Sunday Times in a variety of capacities for more than 20 years. I was the UK’s first social affairs correspondent, have been a section editor of the paper, US correspondent, senior feature writer, and, in 1999 I won a British Press Award - the highest distinction in print journalism - for my investigations in the field of medicine. Channel 4 Television was sufficiently impressed by my work to invite me last year to make a one-hour, prime-time documentary on MMR.

    Before receiving the abusive, threatening and obscene emails from Carol Stott - employing such choice phrases as “try me, shit head,” “so go fuck yourself” and “twathead” - filed, perhaps appropriately, through an account of the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry, I had previously never heard of Dr Stott, and had no dealings with the department, nor, to my knowledge, with any person connected with it. I have never written about it. I have no knowledge of the “group” Dr Stott claims in her statement to be a member of.

    I don’t invite the Society’s Conduct Panel to adjudicate on my character or professional life. However, I must, as a matter of record, say that Carol Stott’s multiple defamatory allegations are false - and are submitted in circumstances where I believe the test of malice is met. I have never “taunted” any “group of scientists”, accused any such persons of “fraudulent data manipulation”, or of being “charlatans”. I have never claimed that any deaths resulted from anything Dr Stott has been involved in. I have never said I would “rub people out”. I absolutely deny all of her outrageous and unsubstantiated abuse.

    These allegations are plainly beyond the Panel’s remit, but I wish to draw to its attention further material in the statement relating to me in which Carol Stott seeks to mislead the Panel, and so, I submit, further compound her misconduct.

    I point out the following claims by Carol Stott, which she puts forward for the Panel’s use in judging her behaviour of June 30 2004:

    (a) That I had spoken of “charlatans” and “quacks”. This must be located within the general issue of persons who purport to offer remedies or cures for autism.

    (b) That there has been a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. I understand that this has been rejected.

    (c) That there has been a complaint to Channel 4 Television. This is correct.

    (d) That there has been a complaint to the Royal Free hospital. This is correct.

    (e) That I have placed patient confidential information on my website. This is false.

    I highlight these points because all of them are related to matters that could only have occurred after June 2004. (a) (c) and (d) are connected with my Channel 4 programme, for which my contract was signed on July 12, with the programme transmitted on November 18. In the case of (b), the PCC complaint, I believe it was Carol Stott who instigated that complaint through parents, pursuant to her email of June 30 in which she said she would do just this. The Sunday Times was notified of the complaint on August 27. It related to a report published on February 22. Dr Stott was also involved in a complaint to Channel 4 from a family who had hoped to appear in my programme in order to make unsubstantiated allegations against a GP and a nurse. After receiving a firm reply from Channel 4, this family has not pursued the matter.

    Since Carol Stott’s misconduct of June, when she threatened, and goaded me to “try” her, she has carried out her threats by orchestrating a campaign of abuse. Apart from her involvement in spurious complaints, she has launched a website, mmrthequestions.com, [see attached] which she has operated anonymously since four days before my television documentary, and which appears to have little purpose other than to attack me. I submit that this website is further evidence that her emailed threats against me were real, and that she has carried them out, despite the impending proceedings before the Panel.

    I have no idea what standards of professional conduct are permitted among psychologists, but I know that a medical practitioner who sought to mislead a disciplinary hearing might well face more severe censure than that arising from the original complaint.

    (2) The claim that her professional colleagues were improperly influenced

    Having submitted to the Panel that I am a disreputable individual, and therefore fair game to be woken in the night by a string of abusive, threatening and obscene emails, Carol Stott further justifies her conduct on grounds that her academic department wouldn’t help her because, she was advised, it was taking money from a drug company involved in MMR litigation.

    Although I’ve never had any previous dealings with Cambridge University’s psychiatry department, or its staff, had never heard of Carol Stott - who wasn’t among the subjects of my Sunday Times reports - she twice claims that an unnamed “senior colleague” in the department “had concerns” about me. She says she went to him for “help” and made complaints to him about my “behaviour”, although she offers the Panel no idea of what help she could have wanted, or what behaviour I had displayed, since we had never had any dealings whatsoever. She says this colleague “suggested that [she] stop working in MMR research” on grounds of the department’s funding source, “a significant portion of which,” she says, “comes from GlaxoSmithKline.”

    Although the colleague is unnamed, the slur on Cambridge University’s psychiatry department, and its senior staff - some of whom may well be members of the British Psychological Society - is evident. I’m frankly astounded that she should make such a scurrilous attack - as indeed I’m sure that they will be, when I send it to them. I’m not a lawyer, but I would suggest that her allegation - which I don’t believe for a moment - is defamatory of at least the heads of department, and probably others responsible for its management, fundraising and research priorities. They would certainly be in a position to know, and to take action, if staff were being silenced, or proper tasks left undone, in order to please the pharmaceutical industry.

    These extraordinary claims seek to bring professional colleagues into disrepute as a mitigation for her conduct. She suggests that drug company money caused them to offer her no proper assistance in dealing with what she bizarrely calls “the perceived threat imposed by Mr Deer”. As a result, she was “feeling powerless” and so “acted personally” in sending the abusive, threatening and obscene emails from a university account, and lying about them afterwards.

    (3) Conclusion

    The primary content of Carol Stott’s statement is intended to smear me, and hence somehow render her behaviour acceptable. I respectfully submit that the Panel need make no finding on my character: it makes no difference if I am a modern Mother Teresa, or a fugitive war criminal. Dr Stott has no justification for her conduct - last June and subsequently - and her only proper response to the Panel should have been to sincerely apologise, perhaps citing a medical or emotional problem.

    She did not do this. Instead, she compounded her misconduct with an attempt to mislead the Panel, and to aggravate her behaviour with abusive, defamatory allegations, for which she has offered not a shred of evidence.

    Her slurs against myself are very serious, but I submit, should be of lesser concern than her attack on her colleagues. As a lay person, one would assume that the university boasted a distinguished psychiatry faculty. But now I’m led to believe that (a) it would employ someone like Carol Stott, and (b) it faces suspicion of slanting its research into autism in order to satisfy a drug company defending a lawsuit.

    I respectfully draw to the Panel’s attention the Society’s Rule 1 in its code of conduct: “In all their work psychologists shall conduct themselves in a manner that does not bring into disrepute the discipline and the profession of psychology.” Further, I draw attention to Rule 5, which makes it clear that psychologists must not “inappropriately undermine public confidence in their ability or that of other psychologists” to carry out their professional duties.

    Perhaps the most important lesson of this matter is that it reveals the lamentable calibre of psychologist to whom the bewildered parents of autistic children sometimes turn. I find it hard to believe that the Panel will buy Carol Stott’s excuses. To accept the grounds she puts forward would, I submit, be to endorse her poisonous, baseless attacks on a person about whom you know little - and, more importantly, on the integrity of very senior psychologists and psychiatrists.

    Yours sincerely,

     

    Brian Deer


     
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