Leveson Report

Cryshame Press Release - 29 November 2012


By Martin Hewitt 

Leveson Inquiry caves in to News International:

Witness invited to give evidence against Sunday Times and then invitation withdrawn at behest of News International

A complaint to the Leveson Inquiry from parents of autistic children complaining about the Sunday Times’ 7-year investigation into Dr Andrew Wakefield  (lead author of the 1998 Lancet paper on MMR vaccine and autism ) was rejected – and Leveson’s invitation to appear before the Inquiry withdrawn.

The Sunday Times (through core participant News International)  objected to parents’ evidence and forced the Inquiry to retract the invitation to one parent invited to appear before Leveson.

The Sunday Times investigation by journalist Brian Deer began in 2004 with the highly questionable act of obtaining, without the consent of parents or the Royal Free Hospital, the confidential medical records of eleven sick children whose anonymised clinical conditions the Lancet paper had studied.

Evidence to Leveson has already revealed how another News International paper, the Sun, obtained and published confidential medical records in 2006 of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's son, Fraser.

The Inquiry’s initial response to the parents’ submission was to invite one of them to sign the evidence as a statement of truth and appear before the inquiry on 6 December 2011. But one week before his appearance, he was told the Inquiry no longer required his attendance and rejected his evidence in total.

The Leveson Inquiry solicitors explained that the Sunday Times had exercised its right through 'core participant' News International to object to the parent’s witness statement by convincing the Inquiry that their version of events was different from the parents' submission and that Leveson would need to establish which version was accurate. Leveson solicitors said assessing the accuracy of competing statements was not within Leveson’s terms of reference and so rejected the evidence.

Of the hundreds of witnesses submitting evidence or appearing before the Inquiry, many were allowed to give evidence that News International newspapers objected to. These witnesses were given the opportunity to submit written and oral evidence and be examined by Inquiry lawyers.

This raises several question: How many potential witnesses have been excluded because NI or other core participants objected?

Whilst the public is deeply alarmed by the Inquiry's revelations, they have no idea what other evidence of press misconduct is being kept from public view by legal manoeuvring behind the scenes.


1.    For the full story go to here

2.    The role of core participant was introduced under the 2006 Inquiry Rules and entitles a core participant to be designated a "person [who] played, or may have played, a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry relates", or has a direct interest in these matters, or is likely to be subject to significant or explicit criticism during the course of the inquiry. Nowhere does legislation mention the right of core participants to challenge evidence they are entitled to see. It appears that Justice Leveson has introduced this practice as a rule to be followed in his own Inquiry following arguments from News International’s lawyers who are now exercising this new right.

3.    Well-known witnesses have been allowed to publically criticise press reporting of parents' legitimate worries about MMR safety. Alistair Campbell, former Prime Minister Tony Blair's press secretary, said the media were "grossly irresponsible" in reporting the 1998 Lancet paper. Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, having published several investigative reports questioning the safety of MMR, recanted and "ran a mea culpa" retracting their earlier investigation of its alleged dangers. Ms Fiona Fox, for the Science Media Centre, referred to the MMR as "the best known example of how poor media reporting can cause harm". No mention in their accounts of the genuine worries parents have about MMR safety, the experiences of parents of autistic children who witnessed their child's regression closely following the jab, and of medical calls for a more cautious approach to vaccinations.

4.    Lord Leveson and Queen’s Counsel Robert Jay both played a role in denying the claims to justice of the MMR litigants.

In October 2005, Leveson J in a closed hearing refused the parents' application for a judicial review of the Legal Services Commission's withdrawal of legal aid for the children's class action against MMR manufacturers. See May J's reference to Leveson's judgment in review of the decision of the Legal Services Commission to withdraw legal aid.  The  Commission was represented at the original hearing before Sir Nigel Davis by Jay (‘R (Williams) v Legal Services Commission [article 6 and reasons challenge to LSC’s decision to withdraw public funding for the MMR…]).  The judgments of both Davis and Leveson remains embargoed to this day, leaving the roles of Davis's and Leveson's thinking and Jay's evidence  obscure in this matter.

CryShame is a group of parents who saw their children regress into autism in their second year and ask why this happened. No scientific explanation can explain why children regress following normal development.

CryShameFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/266431701955/


 Medical and scientific research


3.29  The Science Media Centre, through its director Fiona Fox, gave oral evidence to the Inquiry, and written submissions have been received from organisations such as the Wellcome Trust, Sense about Science, and the Cardiff University Brain Imaging Centre. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all these organisations cite press reporting on the MMR vaccination following the publication of a case study in The Lancet in 1998 as an example of how journalism that they allege was both inaccurate and unbalanced led to a media generated health scare.117 Both the Wellcome Trust and Sense About Science have explained that in the immediate aftermath of the most intense period of coverage there was an estimated fall in vaccination rates of 61% in some areas of London,118as well as a much lower take-up of the vaccination overall.119 This reduction is reported to have had a real impact on the risk that incidence of the diseases will increase with potentially serious consequences to those affected.

3.31 ...This body of evidence emphasises the need for balanced and responsible reporting on matters of public interest and, in particular, reporting that reflects the balance of scientific and/or medical opinion on any specific issue.

Science reporting

9.57 In many ways, the imperative for accuracy in political reporting is matched in relation to science reporting. There is a significant public interest in the press reporting scientific advances, discoveries or reports in an easily accessible way. The evidence received by the Inquiry suggested that science reporting had improved in recent years and that the majority of science reporting was responsible and accurate.480  However, in the minority of cases where the press reports a science story carelessly or inaccurately, it can cause substantial damage. As the Science Media Centre wrote:481

“The potential of the media to influence and inform the public on science comes with a huge responsibility. When the media gets it wrong the impact is devastating and causes real harm to individuals and society. The furore over the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which started in 1998 after a rogue doctor claimed a link between the vaccine and autism, is the best known example of how poor media reporting can cause harm. Vaccination rates before the story stood at about 92% but dropped down to 80% after the scare, and it has taken close to 15 years to get over the damage. Cases of measles in England and Wales rose from 56 in 1998 to 1,370 in 2008.”

9.58 In respect of the MMR story, it is correct that the press as a whole were reporting the work of a qualified medical practitioner, as published in a respected medical journal. However, the Science Media Centre, the Association of Medical Research Charities, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, and Sense about Science all considered that the press shared responsibility for the scandal, primarily because a single doctor’s research, based on a small case study, which conflicted with all other research in the field and conflicted with the great majority of medical opinion, was unjustifiably given front page prominence.482

9.59 The MMR example was cited by each of these organisations as an example of false balance within the press: that is to say, where the scientific view of a very small minority is given prominence which suggests that there is a significant conflict of opinion within the scientific community.483 As Fiona Fox, Chief Executive of the Science Media Centre, said in relation to the MMR scare:484

“Time and time again the editor demanded that the fact that 99.99999 per cent of medical science believed this vaccine to be safe had to be balanced in every article by Andrew Wakefield or one of his supporters. So you have the terrible situation where a MORI poll showed, at the height of this crisis, that nearly 60 per cent of the British public thought that medical science was divided. That’s the bit on which the media let the public down.”

9.69 The impact of these kinds of scare stories can be twofold: first they can create unnecessary public anxiety, and (as in the case of the MMR scandal) have a consequently detrimental impact on public health; and second, they can have a “cry wolf” effect, reducing trust in science reporting generally.

Summary of recommendation

Regulatory models for the future

Establishing an independent self-regulatory regime


Standards Code and Governance Requirements

7. The standards code must ultimately be the responsibility of, and adopted by, the Board, advised by a Code Committee which may comprise both independent members of the Board and serving editors.7

8. The code must take into account the importance of freedom of speech, the interests of the public (including the public interest in detecting or exposing crime or serous impropriety, protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being seriously misled) and the rights of individuals. Specifically, it must cover standards of:

(a) conduct, especially in relation to the treatment of other people in the process of obtaining material;

(b) appropriate respect for privacy where there is no sufficient public interest justification for breach and

(c) accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation.8

Full document: 


jackie@jabs.org.uk © John Fletcher 2012