It has already been well established that Andrew Wakefield was employed by Dawbarns, a lawfirm working with families bringing forward claims of vaccine damage from MMR. Brian Deer made this clear in his investigative reporting starting in 2004.
Even with that, I must say I was surprised and dismayed to read it again and in much greater detail in the GMC transcripts.
Mr. Wakefield has asserted over the years that the children for the Lancet study came through “formal channels”. He denied the possibility of litigation bias in a letter to the Lancet.
Amongst the myriad questions left open is why did a group of parents of disabled children seek out Mr. Wakefield’s team when that team had no particular expertise in autism. Why did families from all over the U.K. and beyond seek out the Royal Free Hospital?
There is evidence elsewhere in the transcripts of Mr. Wakefield’s direct involvement with recruiting some children for his study, but here we can see how the law firm was actively recruiting children, and that Mr. Wakefield was aware of this.
For example, here is a section from the transcripts from day 3 of the hearings. This is where Ms. Smith was laying out the case against Mr. Wakefield before testimony was started.
Let’s first put the following letter into perspective on time. The letter is from August 1996. 1996 was two years before the Lancet paper was published. Earlier that year (in February) Mr. Wakefield had agreed to work as an expert in the MMR litigation. The Fall of 1996 was when the Lancet 12 children were seen at the Royal Free. After this initial group of children, more (over 70 total) children were seen at the Royal Free for suspected Gi complaints and regression.
Ms. Smith’s comments are in bold. The letter from Mr. Barr are blockquoted.
If I can just read through it, this is a letter to Dr Wakefield from Mr Barr, the solicitor for the claimants:
I refer to the telephone message left … and I am writing to confirm that at long last the Legal Aid Board has now given authorisation for the pilot study. The limit is £55,00 which does include the setting up costs.
I think we need to have a meeting about the mechanics of running the study because obviously we both have different roles to play and we also need to make sure that the investigation is as effective as possible both from your point of view and ours.
As I mentioned on the telephone the only slight cloud is that the Legal Aid Board rather hoped that within the £55,000 you would be able to include preparing us a written over-view in relation to vaccine damage. We have discussed this and I don’t know whether it is impertinent to suggest that you should do it within that funding bracket.
We also need to make sure that cases are properly selected for the pilot study. Obviously only legally aided children can be included (we have details of cases where legal aid has either not been granted or has not been applied for). Again a meeting might help to sort those out. For all the cases that we have obtained legal aid we have already put in hand obtaining records. In many cases we already have the complete set.
I assume that for the purposes of the pilot study you would like us to supply a full set of medical records and as much information about the cases as you can get hold of.
Then there is reference to two of the vaccine support groups who were concerned about a forthcoming MMR campaign, and:
“When we meet I would like to discuss with you and perhaps engage in further correspondence with Dr Salisbury/The Committee on Safety of Medicines”,
and it then goes into some details and requests information about the vaccine trials.
That letter is followed on in terms of tracing the story through. That is in August 1996 and in September 1996 Dr Wakefield is referred to in another of the newsletters that I have already gone to, again produced by the solicitors in the MMR litigation and again sent to Mrs 12. That is at page 189.
There is so much in this letter of interest, but I will pull out one fact: Mr. Barr was sending newsletters out informing people about the work starting at the Royal Free, including “Mrs 12″, the mother of child 12 of the Lancet study.
There was certainly an effort to recruit children to Mr. Wakefield’s team, and Mr. Wakefield was aware of this.
Mr. Wakefield has asserted that none of the children in the Lancet study were involved in litigation at the time of that research. I do not know what criteria Mr. Wakefield uses for “involved in litigation”, but it is clear that at least one (and from other evidence it appears more like 4 or five) of the Lancet 12 were working with Mr. Barr and his lawfirm at Dawbarns at the time of the study.
Ms. Smith also discussed a September 1996 newsletter from Dawbarns. This was at the same time that Mr. Wakefield was applying for ethical approval for his study at the Royal Free. Here is a section of that newsletter:
Autism and inflammatory bowel disease
A substantial number of children referred to us are suffering from chronic stomach problems and/or have developed autism-like symptoms. Our own researches indicate that these two conditions may well have been caused by the MMR/MR vaccines and that they may well be linked.
We are trying to put together as much information as possible about the apparent link between these two conditions and the vaccines. If you have any information, or know of other families with children who have one or other of these conditions (or both) following vaccination we would be very interested to hear from you. If your child has the condition(s) and you have not yet received the fact sheet produced by Dr Andrew Wakefield, do contact us.”
It was no coincidence that the children reported in the 1998 Lancet paper claimed regression, GI complaints and many blamed the MMR vaccine.
Was there “litigation bias” and a strong measure of self-selection in the Lancet 12? Absolutely. Was Mr. Wakefield aware of this? Yes. Did he make this clear to the public, or even his own colleagues? No.
And we have yet to discuss what active role Andrew Wakefield himself took in recruiting study subjects to the Royal Free.