Last week Andrew Wakefield announced to the world that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) had ordered the Sunday Times to take down some articles about him from its website. Wakefield suggested that this was a tacit admission by the Times that its story was inaccurate and this message was dutifully repeated by Age of Autism and the rest of Wakefield’s online supporters.
As I reported previously, the PCC is waiting on the final outcome of the GMC disciplinary hearing against Wakefield before conducting its own inquiry over the articles and felt it would be fairer all round if the material was temporarily removed from the Times website. The Times agreed and removed the articles as a courtesy to the PCC. The Times was not impressed by Wakefield’s ungracious response and as a result the material is now back on their website.
This is not the first time that Wakefield’s actions have backfired on him. Four years ago he tried to sue Channel 4 and Brian Deer for libel over a documentary, MMR: What they didn’t tell you, that contained damaging revelations about Wakefield’s role in the MMR scare. As with his current complaint to the PCC and his recent press release, Wakefield’s action in bringing the case seems to have been motivated by a desire to please his loyal supporters rather than a serious attempt to settle the issue. Unusually for a litigant, Wakefield showed a marked reluctance to clear his name in court, seeking to delay the hearings for two years. When the court decided that Deer and his legal team were entitled to see the unredacted medical records of the children who were the subjects of Wakefield’s original Lancet paper Wakefield withdrew the action and agreed to pay costs to Brian Deer.
It is ironic that without the libel action by Wakefield it is unlikely that Deer would have been granted access to the medical records. And without the records he would not have sat through months of the GMC and so written the story that Wakefield is now complaining about.
According to Brian Deer (private communication, quoted with permission)
There’s also the irony that it was Wakefield who in February 2004 called for a GMC investigation into my allegations that he had a conflict of interest over his research for lawyers, and no proper ethical cover, prompting me to hand over all my materials to the GMC’s lawyers, producing the longest doctor’s discplinary hearing ever.
I understand that the Press Complaints Commission has written to Dr Wakefield about the claims on his website, and he’s now in a tricky position. Either he admits that was he says is untrue, and takes down his claims, or he leaves them up in circumstances which would then be both dishonest and actionable.
I expect Wakefield to withdraw his complaint to the PCC once the GMC deliver their verdict. He will claim that it is impossible for him to get a fair hearing in the UK. It may suit him to continue to play the martyr from his self-imposed exile in America while enjoying the adulation that befits a “brave maverick doctor.” But he is and will remain the author of his own misfortune.