Murdoch  Deer, Brian

An Elaborate Fraud, Part 1: In Which a Murdoch Reporter Deceives the Mother of a Severely Autistic Child

One of the Lancet 12 children on a doctor visit not long after the BMJ articles were published in January.

By Dan Olmsted

On January 5, 2011, the British Medical Journal accused Dr. Andrew Wakefield of committing “an elaborate fraud” in the controversial 1998 Lancet report about 12 children who developed bowel disease and regressed after receiving the MMR shot. The cover article by journalist Brian Deer focused on “the bogus data behind claims that launched a worldwide scare over the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.”

Deer identified and interviewed parents of some of the children in the anonymous Lancet case series, describing what he said were significant disparities. “I traveled to the family home, 80 miles northeast of London, to hear about child 2 from his mother,” Deer wrote of one interview. The child had severe autism and gut problems that she blamed on the MMR.

What Deer did not say in the BMJ article is that he had lied to the mother about his identity, claiming to be someone named “Brian Lawrence” (his middle name). Deer had written a number of critical articles about parents’ claims of vaccine injury, and if he gave his real name, he doubtless feared, Child 2’s mother would not agree to talk to him. Once she checked his blog, she would be more likely to kick him out of the family home than sit still for what turned into a six-hour inquisition.

He even created a fake e-mail address for his fake identity, and he used it to communicate with her:

Why did the highly respected British Medical Journal sanction such deceit involving the mother of a child who, whatever the cause, was severely disabled? When the interview took place in November 2003, more than seven years before the BMJ article, Deer was not working for the journal. He was on assignment for The Sunday Times of London.

The Sunday Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch, part of the News International division that has come under a Watergate-size cloud in England for its newsgathering tactics – fraudulently obtaining confidential information, bribing police, hacking 9,000 phone numbers, gaining access to bank accounts, and using large financial settlements to keep some victims quiet.

The BMJ article, titled “How the Case Against the MMR Vaccine Was Fixed,” has its roots in the Sunday Times. It is remarkably similar to one Deer wrote for the Sunday Times two years earlier, in February 2009. That article was titled MMR Doctor Andrew Wakefield Fixed Data on Autism and it cited much the same data and mentioned many of the same people featured in the BMJ article.

The BMJ imprimatur gave Deer – as well as the British Medical Association, which publishes the journal -- a “peer-reviewed” platform from which the story was broadcast far and wide, as conclusive proof of fraud. The BMJ dressed up its presentation with footnotes, charts, editorials, commentary and what it called “editorial checking.”

But clearly, the crux of the article came from reporting Deer did while affiliated with the Sunday Times. Along with evidence presented at a General Medical Council hearing, Deer wrote in the Sunday Times, he relied on “unprecedented access to medical records, a mass of confidential documents and cooperation from parents during an investigation by this newspaper.” His work, he said, exposed the “selective reporting and changes to findings that allowed a link between MMR and autism to be asserted.”

Deer did not identify Child 2 or his mother in either the Sunday Times or the BMJ – he didn’t need to. He had posted their names on his blog (subsequently removed); what’s more, the names were known because the mother had spoken out on the researchers’ behalf and was a claimant in a failed legal case over the vaccine. (Deer has said any allegation he “placed confidential information on my website” is false.)

False pretenses and confidentiality aside, the BMJ’s ethics code bars the use of anyone’s medical information without written permission -- even when the subject is anonymous.

“Any article that contains personal medical information about an identifiable living individual requires the patient’s explicit consent before we can publish it,” according to the policy (italics in original).  “We will need the patient to sign our consent form,  which requires the patient to have read the article.”

If she had done so, the journal would have gotten an earful about  “Brian Lawrence,” Brian Deer and her subsequent dealings with the Sunday Times. That is the subject of our next article.


Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism, and co-author, with Mark Blaxill, of The Age of Autism – Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic, to be published in paperback in September by Thomas Dunne Books. 

An Elaborate Fraud, Part 2: In Which a Murdoch Newspaper’s Deceptive Tactics Infect the British Medical Journal

As she sat down to write the Sunday Times of London on Saturday, November 29, 2003, Rosemary Kessick was beside herself. The day before, a reporter for the paper named Brian Lawrence had come to her home to interview her – and kept at it, relentlessly, for six straight hours. It was more like an inquisition than an interview. Everything she said about the regression of her severely autistic son – what happened, when it happened, why she thought it was connected to the measles-mumps-rubella shot he had received -- was questioned as though she were a defendant in a courtroom.

Her son’s autism had manifested 13 years earlier, in 1990, and it still “traumatized and blighted” the family, but Brian Lawrence expected her to remember it like it were yesterday and describe it all with clarity; any uncertainty or hesitation seemed to immediately become a discrepancy. She had no confidence in what the reporter was going to write. She thought he might suggest she was, at best, an unreliable witness to her own child’s mental and physical disintegration, or, at worst, that she wasn’t telling the truth.

As she began typing, she did not know it was “Brian Lawrence” who was not telling the truth – a fact that became clear a few days later, when she found a picture online of Brian Deer, a journalist notoriously hostile to people who claimed that vaccines had injured their children. That was the man who sat in her living room, sneering and displaying “no human qualities of compassion.”

On this day, the day after the inquisition, all she knew is that she didn’t like the way she had been treated, not at all, and that is what she began typing to Brian Deer’s boss, John Witherow (who remains editor of the Sunday Times to this day).

 It is worth reading the letter, and the subsequent correspondence, in order and in toto (with only a few irrelevant details omitted), because the road it leads to is ultimately not the Sunday Times, but the British Medical Journal. The BMJ quoted from that interview this January – seven years after “Brian Lawrence” arrived at her door, 20 years after the devastating events it described – as proof of what the BMJ called “an elaborate fraud” by Dr. Andrew Wakefield to link developmental regression, bowel disease, and the MMR. Rose Kessick’s son was one of the 12 children in the controversial Lancet study that first raised the possibility of a connection between shot and symptoms that warranted further study, and part of MMR litigation that had been dismissed.

This past week - on Sunday, July 17, 2011 – the trail wound back to the Sunday Times. Editor Witherow wrote a column – subtitled “As the storm over phone hacking rages on, the editor of The Sunday Times says deception can sometimes be the only path to the truth” -- in which he defended the paper’s h tactics and singled out important investigations by the newspaper including “Brian Deer’s outstanding work on exposing the doctor behind the false MMR scare.” He rejected any criticism of the newspaper’s past conduct, citing the public interest.

“In other words,” he said, citing another high-profile Sunday Times investigation, “the ends justified the means.”

The Sunday Times has denied charges made this month by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the paper had “blagged” him, with Sunday Times personnel posing as Brown to gain access to his bank account. The real Gordon Brown referred the matter to police.

From here on, my short comments are in italic, between the correspondence, and at the end.


November 29, 2003:

Dear Mr. Witherow [Editor, The Sunday Times of London],

I was visited yesterday, Friday 28th November 2003 by Brian Lawrence who had introduced himself by telephone the previous Friday as the Sunday Times health correspondent. He had asked for the appointment which he told me was part of an exercise instigated by yourself in order to decide whether the Sunday Times should support the reinstatement of legal aid in the MMR cases.

I [was] both surprised and shocked by the tone and emphasis of the questioning which stopped little short of interrogation from the outset. This questioning began with a launch into the exact nature of what happened on the day my younger son had received his MMR vaccine down to questions about where I worked, what the surgery [medical office] was like, what time of day it would have been. …

It was curious that having asked if I didn’t mind the interview being recorded, Mr. Lawrence kept turning the same tape over every time it ran out.

It must not be forgotten that whatever anyone's personal opinions on the causation, we are a family traumatised and blighted by seeing our normal, healthy, beautiful baby son transformed into a desperately disabled child and have been struggling to cope with everything that this entails for the best part of fourteen years. 

Mr. Lawrence displayed no human qualities of compassion and even began the session by firmly and categorically stating his sympathy, approval and admiration for those paediatricians and other health care workers who remain not only detached from the plight of their young patients and families but who display a distinct cold lack of compassion. This attitude was backed up by the anecdote of his sitting in a room with parents grieving the death of their child following medical negligence when he described graphically how he was ignoring their tears to watch the television over the parents' shoulders in order to follow the ongoing storyline of a soap.

What I expect of the Sunday Times is the highest quality journalism and whilst I am well used to hostile questioning, sending a journalist of this calibre to abuse my hospitality in my own home was both unnecessary and inappropriate. The man arrived at 10.30am and left circa 4.30pm.

Despite our own personal outrage at the totally insensitive questioning, demeanour and attitude of this journalist my deepest concerns surround the extent to which the Sunday Times apparently intends to rely on this individual's judgment to formulate an opinion on the legal cases.

During the meeting Mr. Lawrence repeatedly displayed arrogance in his own perceived ability and knowledge which when probed, consistently revealed a dangerous bigotry and clear ignorance of the many legal and scientific facts salient to the MMR cases. He seemed to take delight in refuting many of the facts I was putting to him and I became so frustrated at one point that I telephoned my solicitor to check on the exact wording of one of the defence barristers at a court hearing. My solicitor took my call despite being in a meeting himself and responded to my request immediately. Mr. Lawrence also appeared irritated that the solicitor would not answer his requests to set up a meeting with him and did not accept his response that he was under instruction from the QC not to talk to the press pending the judicial review on the revoke of legal aid for the children in the MMR damage cases.

A recurring theme of the meeting was Mr. Lawrence's besmirching of the integrity and competence of everyone concerned with the MMR cases spanning Richard Barr and his team, our barristers, Dr. Wakefield, me, my family and the expert witnesses. … This all went way beyond what could be considered a reasonable assessment of humanity in general and was exceptionally insulting.

A further theme was the suggestion that we the families are naïve to the fact that everyone in life has their own agenda and we were merely being used by all concerned to further their own aims and objectives. 

Following yesterday’s complete waste of my time I can only assume that Mr. Lawrence’s agenda was totally at odds from that which he used to gain access. His methods seemed more akin to the gutter press than what may be reasonably expected of responsible journalism. In addition, his whole appearance was shoddy and shifty with a clear lack of respect for me, my family or my house. …

I remain deeply shocked that such a journalist who, in my opinion is neither well informed nor particularly intelligent, should be let loose as a representative of a newspaper with the reputation of the Sunday Times.

Whilst writing this I have just received an email from him which I will forward together with this, I have no intention of responding to Mr. Lawrence’s comments.  I will also put both in the post to you and await your response.

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary C. T. Kessick


Kessick remembers being surprised at the change from the day before that Deer’s e-mail represented, and noting that it arrived in the middle of typing her letter to the editor about his conduct. She did not read it until after she sent her letter to the Sunday Times.

-----Original Message-----
From: brian lawrence []
Sent: 29 November 2003 11:09 …

Dear Rosemary,

I hope you don't feel that I was too rude yesterday.  I was mainly thinking aloud - trying to get an answer to a question that has been put to me - which is why not try to get the hearing when all the research is in and published.  It may be that there are procedural reasons why that can't happen, and I'm only trying to suggest that maybe those aren't just things you leave to lawyers, because they might want the thing over and done with to get on with something else.  In my experience, it's those people who are actually affected by the issue who are best placed to decide.  I wasn't saying I didn't support your case or didn't think you were doing the right thing. Autism and MMR is a big issue and any trial is surely going to make a huge difference one way or another.

Anyhow, if you have any questions, let me know.  I'll come back when those with more influence over these things than I have let me know how the paper proposes to fall on this.

Best wishes,



Later the same day, Rosemary Kessick received a response to her letter, from Sunday Times Managing Editor Richard Caseby.

-----Original Message-----

From: Caseby, Richard []

Sent: 29 November 2003 19:53 …

Subject: sunday times


Dear Ms Kessick,

Your email to the editor has been passed to me as managing editor so that I may investigate it. Once I have spoken to those involved I will be in contact next week.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Caseby, managing editor, The Sunday Times


The next day, Rosemary Kessick responded to Caseby.

Many thanks indeed, I look forward to your reply. In the meantime I have been trying to find reference to this man on the internet and have found nothing under the name lawrence.

 However, … I think that the man who came here was in fact someone else. We found a four year old picture of a Brian Deer (link attached) and feel that although he has aged and was quite dishevelled it is the same man.


Rosemary Kessick


Two weeks later, Rosemary Kessick follows up with the Sunday Times Managing Editor.

Dear Mr. Caseby,

Following our subsequent telephone conversation I was wondering when you would be getting back to me on this matter?


This was followed by a further reminder a month later.

Dear Mr. Caseby,

Following our correspondence and discussion I await your comments on Mr. Brian Deer’s behaviour during his visit to my house in December last.

When I spoke to you on the telephone before Christmas I discussed my concern at hearing about an internal memo at the Sunday Times which, amongst other things, apparently accused me of providing an ‘unsatisfactory’ account of events surrounding my own son’s vaccination history to Mr. Deer. 

Whilst I never saw that memo I was horrified to gain sight of an email recently which has been forwarded to me I presume because of its contents and myself being discussed with someone whom I have never met. A number of areas concern me, in particular the references to my character and the word ‘campaign’ which is frankly ridiculous. I spoke with Mr. Deer as a concerned parent and to have these allegations being circulated against me causes great distress. The main body of that email [by Brian Deer] follows:

“… I'm still very much on the case and have pretty much reviewed the science, which you will know stands at something like 99.999 per cent recurring in favour of there being no link between MMR and autism. Indeed, I am not aware of any authority in a plausibly relevant specialty who says otherwise. This strikes me as surprising. During a previous vaccine scare, over DTP, many senior specialists, including paediatric neurologists and epidemiologists of the highest distinction advanced the theory that pertussis shots caused neurological injury. And they were found, on the balance of probability, to be wrong. …

MMR is a serious matter, touching on grave issues of public safety. You will know that, on this basis, I interviewed Mrs Rosemary Kessick of your campaign and, in four hours of recorded material, found her account of events surrounding her son's vaccination and history to be unsatisfactory.

It is my belief that a great deal of material placed before the public is also of a misleading nature. Having studied the media coverage of MMR, I appreciate that Dr Wakefield and the others have for the most part exposed themselves to journalists they might take to be sympathetic to the crusade against the vaccine. I have no such sympathy. If on that basis they do not wish to speak with me - which is certainly the impression I get - that must be a matter for them.

With best wishes, and happy new year

Brian Deer ”

{Here Kessick finishes her letter:] Mr. Caseby, as the mother of a seriously disabled child, fighting for his rights, I am scandalised at being discussed in this manner by a journalist representing a newspaper which I have always held in the highest regard and I sincerely hope that Mr. Deer does not intend casting further aspersions on my reputation in public print in the Sunday Times.

Awaiting your reply,

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary C.T. Kessick

cc Press Complaints Commission

     John Witherow

     Lois Rogers



On February 19, 2004, Rosemary Kessick sent Caseby a final follow-up:

Dear Mr. Caseby,

I still await a satisfactory written response with regard my correspondence, the last of which was by email dated 15th January.

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary C.T. Kessick



After that, Kessick reached out to the Sunday Times Legal Department’s Alastair Brett.


Dear Mr. Brett,

I write with regards the Sunday Times' imminent intent to publish an article about the MMR legal cases. It was with some surprise and distress that I learned of this as I still await a satisfactory response following my correspondence with Richard Caseby.

I believe that considering the odd, deceptive manner in which Brian Deer went about interviewing me, there is a very real possibility that I might be misrepresented.

I am not at all happy at the way in which my complaint has been handled.  I also learn that Mr Deer has been accusing me of lying and am at a loss to know what he is talking about. The mother of a severely disabled son, I willingly shared the story of events with Mr. Deer, as I have done with other journalists.

Everything I have experienced so far leaves me personally affronted, upset for my family and shocked that the Sunday Times should indulge such tactics though on form I believe that there is every intention to publish this Sunday, come what may.

I do not want any reference to me, my family, my disabled son or the work I do to help families of autistic children specific or veiled to appear.

Unless the matter is resolved entirely to my satisfaction I propose to take my complaint to the highest possible authority.

In the meantime I would appreciate an email response from you indicating that you have received this correspondence. My original letter to John Witherow is attached as are subsequent emails with Richard Caseby. My last contact with  Mr Caseby was in a telephone call I made to him several weeks ago when he told me that he was working on a response and  I could be assured  by the fact that no article had been published.

I remain unconvinced.

Yours sincerely,

Rosemary Kessick


The Sunday Times lawyer responded to her on February 18, 2004

Dear Ms. Kessick,

I have not seen any finalized copy yet but understand that, as at the present time, there is no intention to include you in anything we decide to publish on MMR.  Apart from what I have said above, and I hope it comes as some consolation, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on your letters to the Editor or the Managing Editor. 

It is my job to make sure that whatever is published is within the law and in accordance with the highest standards of investigative journalism.  I will contain to try to maintain those standards and I hope Abel Hadden will confirm this.

Please do not hesitate to call me on 020 7782 5858 if you would like to discuss anything further but as I have said I really do not want to take over matters which have gone to the Editor or his Managing Editor. 

Yours sincerely,

Alastair Brett

Legal Manager 


That was the end of the correspondence. Kessick was not quoted in the 2004 Times story. But the interview was mentioned by Deer in a 2009 Sunday Times article that claimed Dr. Wakefield “fixed data” in the study in which Rose Kessick’s child participated; he said he had received “cooperation from parents” in his investigations.

Direct quotes from the interview were used seven years later, in January 2011, in the British Medical Journal Article titled, “How the Case Against the MMR Vaccine was Fixed.”


Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism. He is the co-author, with Mark Blaxill, of The Age of Autism – Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic, to be published in paperback in September by Thomas Dunne Books.

See: [2011 July] An Elaborate Fraud, Part 4: News Analysis -- The British Medical Association Is “Standing Up for Doctors” Even If It Means Attacking Patients By Mark Blaxill

[2011 July] An Elaborate Fraud, Part 1: In Which a Murdoch Reporter Deceives the Mother of a Severely Autistic Child  & part 2: In Which a Murdoch Newspaper’s Deceptive Tactics Infect the British Medical Journal