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Families today saw their group claim in the high court for damages on behalf of children allegedly damaged by the MMR triple vaccination collapse.
A high court judge, Justice Keith, ruled that all but two claims against various pharmaceutical companies must be discontinued, under threat of being struck out, because the withdrawal of legal aid by the legal services commission had made their pursuit impossible.
But the judge stressed that his ruling did not amount to a rejection of any of the claims that MMR had seriously damaged the children concerned.
The court heard that in one case, a medical re- port concluded that the damage could not be attributed to any cause other than MMR. However, legal aid was withdrawn even in this case, not because of its merits, but because the likely damages were too low compared with the legal costs involved.
Despite years of litigation, which at one time peaked with 2,500 children in the group, the judge said in his judgement handed down today that the court had never addressed the issue of damage allegedly caused by MMR.
The two remaining cases, where children had succeeded in having legal aid restored last month, will continue as separate claims, with the “group” claim being formally disbanded.
The collapse of all the other cases because they had no public funding comes a month after the FOIA Centre revealed that another high court judge who had blocked legal aid has a brother who sits on the board of a drugs company embroiled in the litigation.
The ruling by Sir Nigel Davis – whose brother, Sir Crispin Davis, is a non-executive director of GlaxoSmithKline – to dismiss the attempt to restore legal aid left many families without lawyers to represent them. So, the group dwindled as parents, the children’s “litigation friends”, discontinued their claims.
The FOIA Centre also disclosed, following a series of disclosures under the freedom of information act (FOIA), how parliament was misled over the safety of the MMR triple vaccination that was used for four years in Britain.
Three months ago, we revealed that Whitehall documents, obtained under FOIA, show how government health officials and experts gradually learnt from 1987 of the dangers of this triple vaccine, containing the Urabe mumps strain, before it was used for 85% of MMR injections for four years following the launch of the UK measles-mumps-rubella programme in 1988.
This type of MMR is known to cause encephalitis adverse reactions, including meningitis, among some children. These conditions – which variously involve swelling of the brain or of the lining of the brain or spinal chord – can lead to brain damage, deafness or even death.
Parents of some children in the group litigation had, at various times, discontinued their legal actions to avoid being dismissed, while some claims have been struck out after a failure to withdraw.
In Justice Keith’s ruling today, following a hearing at the end of last month, he said that parents of six other children who had so far persisted must, within 28 days, discontinue their claims, otherwise he would dismiss them.
He said: “It is important for the claimants’ litigation friends to understand why their children’s claims are not being allowed to proceed. It is not because the court thinks that the claims have no merit. Although this litigation has been going on for very many years, the question as to whether the claims have merit has never been addressed by the court.
“The reason why the claims have not been allowed to proceed is because everyone has realistically recognised for some time that it is just not practicable for the claims to proceed without public funding. With no realistic prospect of public funding being restored for any of the claims, save for the two which are now to proceed as unitary actions, the dissolution of the litigation became inevitable.” (Emphasis as given in written judgement.)
“My final words must go to the claimants’ litigation friends,” he added. “No one can fail to have enormous sympathy for the parents of the children to whom this litigation has related. They have spoken eloquently and with great feeling of the tragedies that befell them when their children became ill. They blame the vaccines produced by the defendants for damaging their children, and they are bitter over their inability to proceed with their claims.
“But when they came to court, they always ex-pressed themselves in a measured and moderate tone, despite their disenchantment with the legal services commission which they believe has let them down, and at all times they treated the court with courtesy and respect. They made my difficult task less wearing than it might otherwise have been. I am grateful to them for that.”
At the last hearing, a sense of the desperation of the parents of damaged children was given by one mother, Elaine Butler.
She told the court: “I just want to, if I may, briefly revisit my distress and despair over the shameful treatment of my son.”
“At every step of the way, we have been fraught with difficulties. We have got no legal represent-ation, we have not got legal funding, we are having to sit in situations like this where we find it extremely difficult to actually understand and keep up with what is going on.”
“Our children are damaged for life. It is our lifetime obligation to do something about that, and I just sincerely regret the difficulties that we have faced in trying to do that.
“I have tried to be heard and listened to since January 1991 when my son was damaged, and, every step along the way, we have been fraught, we have been abandoned, we have been betrayed, every step of the way. It is extremely difficult for us as parents. I have to go back to him tonight. We live with that, day in, day out.
“And all I can say is that you get to a point in time where you think to yourself, ‘Well perhaps, you know, perhaps I don't mind very much any more whether people believe me, whether that vaccine, the concoction that it was, did the damage or not.’
“What I do hope is that no other parents, and none of the parents or none of the people that have been involved in my son's situation, ever have to play the Russian roulette game that we did, and we lost.”
“I just hope that their children, their grandchildren and their great grandchildren are not affected by this game of Russian roulette which we sincerely regret having been dragged into.
“I thank you for your time and patience. It is important on behalf of my son. He cannot express himself. He probably will never, ever be able to express himself in his life, and I know the reason for that and I will stand firm on that. Thank you.”
Documents on MMR were obtained by the FOIA Centre acting on behalf of one of the parents of a child in the group litigation against various pharmaceutical companies.