Part 2: the Dispatches film
Andrew Wakefield and MMR: the investigation

Brian Deer: the Wakefield factor

brian
Materials from a documentary investigation by Brian Deer for the UK's Channel 4 Television exposing the bizarre true story of British gut surgeon Andrew Wakefield and his crusade against a children's vaccine

brian deer
 

Andrew Wakefield investigated: part 2 of 3

MMR: What they didn't tell you, an investigation by Brian Deer (pictured left in the production office), was broadcast in the UK at 9pm 18 November 2004, after a four-month production period. It was followed by two years of "gagging writ" litigation by Andrew Wakefield, condemned by a High Court judge, and later abandoned

 

The producer/director was Tim Carter; associate producer, Hugo Godwin; executive producer, Claudia Milne. The programme was filmed mostly by David Barker, with Greg Bailey, sound. Iki Ahmed filmed Deer confronting Wakefield at an Indianapolis conference

The TV film continued Deer's award-winning Sunday Times investigation which exposed Andrew Wakefield as a research cheat, and in 2010 saw Wakefield permanently banned from medicine. When the investigation concluded in 2011, a Harris Poll found that in the United States alone nearly 145 million people knew Deer's key finding. Click here for a summary

Exposed: Wakefield lab tests found no measles

Lab results revealed: Even as Andrew Wakefield launched the scare in 1998, he knew that his own lab had rebutted his core theory: that measles virus caused bowel disease and autism. The undisclosed work was carried out by Nick Chadwick (right), who used PCR technology, and spoke for the first time in Deer's programme

 

Paper retracted: After his lab rebutted his theory, Wakefield sent samples to a physician in Tokyo, with whom he published a paper claiming to have found vaccine-strain measles virus. But Chadwick found contamination, as would be alleged in John O'Leary's work

Nick Chadwick
Wakefield's patents: One of the programme's revelations was that, nine months before Wakefield made a notorious 1998 call for a return to single vaccines instead of the triple MMR, he had filed the first of a string of claims for products which could only succeed if MMR was damaged. These included his own single measles vaccine, diagnostic tests and treatments
hugh fudenberg
 

Nutty professor Fudenberg behind MMR claims

Hugh Fudenberg: This grandfather (left) of the scare sold bone marrow autism "cures" which he said he rolled out in a sheet, three molecules deep, on his kitchen table in Spartanburg, South Carolina


Recipe for madness: Wakefield claimed his own single vaccine and treatments, based on Fudenberg's ideas. The technology involved so-called "transfer factors", a fringe conjecture that special substances can be harvested from blood cells. Wakefield advised injecting mice with measles, extracting cells, injecting the result into pregnant goats, milking them and turning the product into capsules

Critic's choice: Reviews of the 2004 TV programme were led by Nancy Banks-Smith of The Guardian, who dubbed Deer "Detective of the week... like a bull pup with a taste for trousers." The BMJ said: "One of the most exciting examples of investigative television journalism you will ever see." The Observer said we "made mincemeat" of Wakefield's claims

Ex-business partner John O'Leary jumps ship

O'Leary repudiates: For years, Wakefield's major ally was said to be John O'Leary (right) of Dublin, who, at huge cost to the British taxpayer, said he found measles virus infection in samples supplied by Wakefield, with whom he started a company. But as clouds gathered over O'Leary's work, he denounced his old partner

 

MMR doctor's "no comment": Wakefield responded through solicitors, launching a bitter attack on Deer. In a letter to Channel 4 Television, Wakefield's lawyers claimed that Deer's reports were "in most cases demonstrably false". They were all proven true

  John O'Leary
Transfer factor: A price on misery. With scientific answers sparse, countless quacks have moved into autism, marketing unproven or worthless products to desperate parents. So-called "transfer factors" have been among the most enduring. When Deer quizzed a vendor at an October 2004 Autistic Society of America meeting, attended by Wakefield, he was ejected
Mr Justice Eady - Sir David Eady

Judge: Wakefield lawsuit was for PR purposes

Gagging writ: Following the programme, Wakefield brought baseless lawsuits against Deer, The Sunday Times and Channel 4. These were slammed in the high court, London, by Mr Justice Eady (left), who said he thought Wakefield was using litigation "for public relations purposes" while trying to avoid "having to answer a substantial defence of justification". Eady refused all Wakefield's pleas

 

Lawsuit withdrawn: Two years, and more than a million pounds in legal bills later, Wakefield dropped his sham claim, after secret payments were revealed, and paid Deer compensation

Sense: The UK charity for deaf-blind children affected by maternal rubella issued a statement of support for the Dispatches programme. Visitors' feedback also overwhelmingly supported it. Comments, however, were laced with a hard-core of opposition. Items here include new scientific info, and feature a discourteous countess with her knickers in a twist

Matt Lauer interviews Deer for NBC's Dateline

A dose of controversy: In August 2009, almost five years after Deer's film, NBC News anchor Matt Lauer presented a Dateline investigation of the Wakefield affair (clip, right). It would be the start of a great unravelling for Wakefield in America, where he had moved after becoming unemployable in Britain

 

Wakefield would also feature in online clips, revealing more of his extraordinary conduct. In what become known as the callous disregard incident, over which he would be found guilty of professional misconduct, he quips about buying blood from children, who he says vomit and faint, while in another he threatens a vaccine safety whistleblower who had confided in him

 
After being fired in the UK in 2001, Wakefield surfaced as "research director" of the self-styled International Child Development Resource Center, Florida, which sold quack products for autism, including enzymes. He was then installed in a $280,000 a year US job, but in February 2010 was ousted within days of his research being retracted by the Lancet

Brian Deer wins a second British Press Award

Press award 2011: Brian Deer receives his second Pulitzer-style British Press Award (video left), and is named specialist journalist of the year by the Society of Editors. The presentation was made by Sky News anchor Anna Botting at London's Savoy hotel in April 2011, with the judge's citation praising "a tremendous righting of a wrong". Deer later won the 2011 HealthWatch award, presented at the Medical Society of London by journalist Nick Ross

 

Secrets of the MMR scare: In January 2011, BMJ, the British Medical Journal, published a three-part series by Deer bringing together much of the extraordinary Wakefield story. The journal's editors denounced the Lancet research as "an elaborate fraud"

In the public interest: Following a BBC television programme in April 2009, in which Deer's stories were conflated with poorly-evidenced work by others supporting Wakefield's allegations, the corporation issued a formal apology on its website, stating with regard to Deer's work: "his reporting was always clearly in the public interest"

Carol Stott, was the first, but not the last, of a string of extraordinary Wakefield "crank magnet" associates who emerged as the investigation went forward. Her approach was to threaten: goading "try me shit head". Another was Martin J Walker, the "liar for hire", and, years later, David L Lewis, a retired environmental scientist who had lost a string of court cases

Andrew Wakefield erased after tribunal rules him "dishonest", "unethical" and "callous"

GMC prosecution: After the longest-ever hearing by a UK General Medical Council panel - a statutory tribunal - on 28 January 2010 Wakefield was branded "dishonest", "unethical" and "callous". On 2 February, his 1998 paper was retracted, and on 17 February he was ousted from a $280,000-a-year job in Austin, Texas

 

Judged against a criminal standard of sureness, he was found guilty on four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of autistic children

Proven dishonesty charges related to Wakefield's Lancet MMR paper, which was also found to be the product of unethical research on uniquely vulnerable children

The five-member panel sat for 217 days, after which, on 24 May 2010, Wakefield was ordered to be erased from the medical register, ending his career as a doctor. Two clinicians were acquitted over their involvement, one by the panel, the other on appeal. Read the GMC findings of fact

 

Andrew Wakefield

Andrew Wakefield