Brian Deer Hired to "Find Something Big" on MMR
Brian Deer was hired by the Sunday Times to find “something big” on MMR
and started his investigation “with an empty notebook”.
revealed in an article last month in British
Medical Journal that he was
hired by a Sunday Times section
editor in September 2003 who told him he needed “something big” on MMR (HERE ).
The investigation, according to Deer, was not commenced on information but “with
an empty notebook”. We are not told by Deer why the editor needed the story,
and it is disturbing that the investigation apparently began as a fishing
expedition. So far, BMJ have
failed to respond to concerns.
“For me the story started with a lunch. So many do. "I need something big,"
said a Sunday Times section editor. "About what?" I replied. Him: "MMR?"”
and goes on:which
was later withdrawn 1992 after adverse side effects ):
Pluserix was manufactured by SmithKlineFrench Laboratories, which
was later incorporated into GlaxoSmithKline. In 2007 Paul Nuki left the Sunday
Times to manage a UK National Heath Service website (‘NHS
“So I took an empty notebook and made my own inquiries. It was the largest
Sunday Times medical investigation since thalidomide.”
Deer does not at this point mention Andrew Wakefield but it seems likely that
the editor wanted something “big” on the main critics of MMR rather than the
product. It has been widely reported that the section editor was Paul
Nuki, and the son of Prof George Nuki, who sat on
the Committee on Safety in Medicines when it passed Pluserix MMR vaccine as safe
for use in 1987 (
While it has not been explained why the editor should have needed a “big” story
on MMR the UK House of Commons Health Committee stated in its report ‘The
Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry’ in 2005 p.60:
‘The use of PR to counter negative publicity’
‘221. ………. Considerable resources are invested into building long-term,
sustainable relationships with stakeholders and ‘key opinion leaders‘ and
journalists. These relationships are used to promote the use of certain brands
and counter concerns relating to safety. Efforts to undermine critical voices in
particular were identified, under terms of “issues management”. In later
evidence, in response to the ISM’s memorandum, Pfizer stated that PR is entirely
legitimate and can “help to educate and inform”. According to the PMCPA, PR
activities may include “placing articles in the lay press, TV documentaries,
soap operas etc“.’
Later on in February 2009 Sunday Times proprietor James
Murdoch was appointed to the board of MMR manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline with
a brief to “help to review "external issues that might have the potential for
serious impact upon the group's business and reputation"” (Guardian
UK) . Coincidentally, or not, this was swiftly followed by new attacks on
Andrew Wakefield’s reputation by Deer and other Times Newspaper journalists (HERE),
Deer also failed to disclose in the BMJ article
that he was privately the author of at least three complaints to the GMC , as
disclosed by Mr Justice Eady in the High Court.
BMJ have yet to publish my letter expressing concerns about some of these
"Grave concerns - are we are being led?"
I note a new feature of this story recorded here  which should
arouse disquiet. Brian Deer tells us that a Sunday Times editor approached
him to find a story, rather than investigate one which already existed.
"For me the story started with a lunch. So many do. "I need something
big," said a Sunday Times section editor. "About what?" I replied.
and Deer goes on to confirm:
"So, I took my empty notebook and made my own enquiries"
But crucially we are not told why this editor needed "something big".
I believe it is also of concern given what followed that Deer was
named by Mr Justice Eady as a complainant to the GMC about Wakefield :
"Well before the programme was broadcast [Mr Deer] had made a
complaint to the GMC about the Claimant. His communications were made on
25 February, 12 March and 1 July 2004. In due course, on 27 August of the
same year, the GMC sent the Claimant a letter notifying him of the
information against him."
Indeed, we still do not know of any other complainant in the case,
and Deer does not explain this part of his role in the affair here. I
think we are entitled to know this as background to the present somewhat
wistful reminiscences, but even more importantly why did the editor need
something "big" on MMR (or, by implication, on its critics), and what
exactly hung on it? Otherwise we are surely simply being led.
 Brian Deer,'Reflections on Investigating Wakefield' Published 2
February 2010, doi:10.1136/bmj.c672
 Melanie Phillips, 'A deer in the headlights', The Spectator 16