08:50 - 06 March 2007
A Schoolgirl from the north-east is at the centre of a legal battle to prove
that her deafness is linked to a form of the controversial MMR triple

Katie Stephen, 16, became ill and suffered a severe fever just 10 days after
she was administered an early form of the vaccine as a toddler in 1991.

The Aberdeenshire youngster lost the hearing in her left ear following the
alleged reaction, which showed similarities to the brain disease

Katie's parents, Wendy and Alistair, of Carron Terrace, Stonehaven, joined a
group litigation against the drug companies that manufactured the particular
vaccine, which included the Urabe strain of mumps and was first used on
children in 1988.

A bad reaction can involve swelling of the brain, the lining of the brain or
the spinal cord, which can lead to brain damage, deafness or death.

Yesterday, the family's fight became more determined after documents
released under freedom-of-information legislation indicated that the UK
Government had been aware of the health risks associated with the vaccine
but continued to use it.

The vaccine was blamed for the deaths of several children after eventually
being withdrawn by the Department of Health in 1992.

More recent forms of the vaccine have been at the centre of a separate row
over alleged links to autism, prompting some parents to refuse to allow it
to be administered to their children.

Katie, a fifth-year pupil at Mackie Academy at Stonehaven, became aware of
her parents' fight to prove a link to the vaccine only as she neared the end
of primary school.

She spoke yesterday for the first time about the battle she and her family
have gone through and about how she has learned to live with her partial

"It's always been there but it's become more a part of my life as I grow
up," she said.

"When I thought about going to high school, I began to worry and it started
to dawn on me how it would affect me."

Doctors said the nerve between her brain and left ear was "totally shot" and
could not be repaired.

This has left her unable to cope with noisy situations and she becomes
disorientated in busy public places.

Katie said: "When there's background noise I can't pick out individual
sounds or what people are saying. It makes it harder for me to be involved
in discussions.

"I have a group of friends who make it easier for me and help me understand
but when I'm out shopping I get lost in the noise.

"It can get quite awkward. People don't like it when I ask them to repeat

Despite the lifelong affliction, she is determined to pursue a career in
musical theatre and has contacted a union that helps disabled people.

She said her initial feelings of coming to terms with her partial deafness
are turning to anger as the lengthy legal challenge steps up.

"I feel quite angry when I think about it," Katie said. "It shouldn't have
happened to me.

"But also I think about the amount of effort my mum's put into this, going
to London because of court dates. It shouldn't have happened to her either."

Her 49-year-old mother is due back in court this month as the MMR litigation
inches forward another step in the case against drug company Smith Kline and
French Laboratories, as it was known at the time.

Mrs Stephen said she had considered giving up the fight but vowed to
continue for the sake of her daughter and other affected families.

She said: "This should not have happened to my daughter. I used to try and
tell her it was just an accident but now I don't.

"It can't happen to anyone now - the vaccine is different - but it was quite
obvious to me what happened then.

"She was a healthy baby. She was given the injection and 10 days later was
seriously ill."

Katie's older sister, Emma, 25, was given earlier individual injections and
suffers no hearing problems. Younger sister Anna, 10, was not given any
injection against mumps, measles or rubella.

More than 2,000 parents, the vast majority from England, have joined the MMR
litigation since around 1997.

Many children of families alleging links with the strain have severe
physical disabilities and in some cases they use wheelchairs.

Mum vows to take MMR case to Europe

‘I’ll fight like fury’ until justice done, says parent

Published: 04/08/2008

An exasperated mother fighting to prove the MMR vaccine triggered her daughter’s health problems has vowed to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Wendy Stephen, of Carron Terrace, Stonehaven, has been battling to prove her theory for around eight years but was refused legal aid to try to take vaccine manufacturers GlaxoSmithKline to court.

Mrs Stephen refuses to be deterred and says she will “fight like fury” until justice is done.

The process started in 1991 when her daughter Katie, now 17, became ill and suffered fever after she was administered an early form of the MMR vaccine as a toddler.

Katie is now deaf in her left ear, a condition her family believe is directly linked to the vaccine which contained the Urabe form of mumps virus.

It was withdrawn in 1992 amid concerns over its long-term effects.

The family joined a group litigation against the drug manufacturer in 2001, but eventually Mrs Stephen lodged a complaint against the solicitors after becoming frustrated at the lack of progress in their case.

Last month the family was awarded compensation after the Law Society in England upheld five of the family’s eight grievances against the solicitors.

Last year it emerged government officials knew of health risks linked to MMR vaccines containing the Urabe strain of mumps, but kept them from the public.

Earlier this year Mrs Stephen discovered vital medical files including thousands of letters, patient notes and internal memos were destroyed by health bosses after she requested access to them under the Freedom of Information act.

Now Mrs Stephen, a former psychiatric nurse, says the European court is the only way to further her case against GlaxoSmithKline even though she was refused legal aid for the action on the grounds not enough children were affected.

She said: “I still believe Katie has a claim against the vaccine manufacturer for negligence and I think it’s a disgrace she was refused legal aid given four eminent practitioners’ support for her case.

“My next step is the European Court of Human Rights, and I will continue to fight like fury for my daughter, even if it means going to Strasbourg.

“I’m not going to let it rest,” she said.

A GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman said that it would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases that were subject to legal proceedings.

 Wendy wants justice for MMR daughter

By Iain Harrison

Katie Stephen was a healthy toddler at the time she was given the measles, mumps and rubella triple vaccine.

A week later she was crying continuously with a temperature off the scale.

Her distraught mum, Wendy, rushed the little one to a local doctor who said her throat and left ear were badly inflamed.

Problems persisted until, four months later, further tests revealed Katie had lost almost all hearing on that side.

This marked the beginning of a campaign for justice that’s still ongoing.

The injection she received was one of the first variants of the vaccine, containing the Urabe form of mumps virus.

This was withdrawn in 1992 amid concerns over its potential long-term effects and has no link to the strain of MMR currently in use.

Mum Wendy is backed by four eminent doctors who are convinced the jab was linked to Katie’s hearing difficulties.

Yet she has been denied legal aid to raise an action against the pharmaceutical company that manufactured the vaccine on the grounds that not enough children were affected.

Worried sick

Now she’s planning to take Katie’s case to the European Court of Human Rights.

“I’m not going to let it rest,” vowed the former psychiatric nurse, from her home in Stonehaven.

Katie was one of millions of children across the UK to receive the Urabe-containing MMR jab following its introduction in October 1988. Her adverse reaction after receiving it had Wendy worried sick.

Yet she didn’t at first consider there could be a link between the immunisation and Katie’s subsequent hearing problems.

It was almost five years after the injection, in mid-1996, that a chance conversation with a doctor alerted her to the possibility.

“I asked him why Katie was so deaf in her left ear and he asked if she’d ever had measles or mumps,” Wendy recalled.

“I said she hadn’t, but that she had been exposed to the viruses via MMR. I began to wonder whether the vaccine had caused it.”


Wendy contacted a support group for vaccine-damaged children who confirmed they’d received similar concerns from other worried parents. They put her in contact with an English solicitor they’d already dealt with.

“I wasn’t happy dealing with a lawyer in a different country under a judicial system that’s completely alien to me.

“After all, my daughter was born in Scotland and had been vaccinated in Scotland.

“But in early 2001, after raising my concerns with the Justice Minister at Holyrood, it was clear that I was left with little choice but to issue instructions to the English solicitor.”

Over the next few months the law firm sent Wendy sheaves of literature and papers all referring to MMR and its potential links with autism and bowel disorders.

Wendy reckoned these were all irrelevant to Katie’s litigation.

“I had huge concerns as to the manner in which this firm were handling my daughter’s case. It didn’t seem to be going anywhere,” Wendy fumed.

“It became obvious they weren’t working on anything other than whether the MMR vaccine caused autism and bowel disorders.

“Katie had neither of these conditions.

“I contacted the solicitor and said, ‘You cannot take clients on to your books and not progress their case,’ but little happened.

Sever ties

“I decided to sever my ties with them and lodge a complaint with the governing body for solicitors in England, The Law Society.”

But after discovering there were still no lawyers in Scotland handling MMR litigation Wendy placed the matter in the hands of another England-based firm.

Their case was helped when medical experts confirmed what Wendy had suspected all along ­ that there was a relationship, or in medical terms a “primary causal link”, between Katie’s deafness and the Urabe-containing MMR jab she’d been given as a baby.

Yet this still wasn’t enough to let Wendy take GlaxoSmithKline, the vaccine manufacturers, to court.

“The experts screened around 100 children but they only established a link between the vaccine and those suffering from what’s called sensorineural deafness,” she said.

“This group, which included Katie, was only six strong.

“Because it was so small it didn’t satisfy what’s called the cost/benefit rule and as a result the legal aid we had been granted was removed.”


Since then, a research organisation specialising in freedom of information law has uncovered documents that appear to strengthen Katie’s case.

These reveal that government officials had serious concerns about the Urabe strain of MMR at least eight months before the first child was injected.

Last month the Law Society in England upheld “to a limited extent” five of the eight grievances Wendy raised against the solicitors she originally retained.

They have awarded Katie a four-figure sum in compensation.

But Wendy is maintaining her quest for redress from GlaxoSmithKline.

“I still believe Katie has a claim against the vaccine manufacturer for negligence and I think it’s a disgrace she was refused legal aid given four eminent practitioners support her case,” she said.

“My next step is the European Court of Human Rights and I will continue to fight like fury for my daughter, even if it means going to Strasbourg.”

A spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline said, “We are aware of the situation with Katie Stephen, however, it would be inappropriate for GSK to make any comment on individual cases that are subject to legal proceedings.”

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