MMR row doctor decision 'fair'

The decision to strike off an eminent doctor over the MMR jab controversy has been defended at the High Court as "just and fair - not wrong".

The General Medical Council (GMC) admitted to a judge that "inadequate reasons" may have been given by a disciplinary panel that found Professor John Walker-Smith guilty of serious professional misconduct. Those reasons related to conflicts over expert evidence.

But Joanna Glynn QC, appearing for the GMC, said: "In spite of inadequate reasons it is quite clear on overwhelming evidence that the charges are made out."

Professor Walker-Smith is asking Mr Justice Mitting at London's High Court to rule that he was denied a fair hearing. On the fourth day of his challenge, the judge said that the case had been "complex and difficult from the start - it greatly troubles me".

The professor is being supported by the parents of many children with autism and bowel disease seen by him at the Royal Free Hospital, north London, up to his retirement in 2001. They say one consequence of the GMC's decision is that families now face serious difficulties in finding NHS treatment for autistic children with bowel disease.

In May 2010, Prof Walker-Smith lost his license to practice along with Dr Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who triggered a global scare about the MMR vaccine. A GMC fitness to practise panel found both guilty of misconduct over the way the MMR research was conducted. The panel's verdict followed 217 days of deliberation, making it the longest disciplinary case in the GMC's 152-year history.

It came 12 years after a 1998 paper in the Lancet suggested a link between the vaccine, bowel disease and autism - resulting in a plunge in the number of children having the vaccination. In 2004, the Lancet announced a partial retraction, and 10 of the 13 authors disowned it.

Dr Wakefield was the paper's chief author and Professor Walker-Smith the then head of the department of paediatric gastroenterology at the Royal Free, where the research was carried out. Professor Walker-Smith's clinical role focused on treatment related to sick children, while his academic work included collaborating in research with Dr Wakefield.

Aged 73 when struck off, Professor Walker-Smith had by then been retired for a decade. But the panel said it had - "with regret" - decided that removing his name from the register was the "only appropriate sanction" for his "extensive failures", "non-compliance with ethical research requirements" and "irresponsible and misleading" reporting of the research findings.

Stephen Miller QC, appearing for the professor, told the High Court the disciplinary findings were seriously flawed and must be quashed. He said investigations, including lumbar punctures and colonoscopies, were carried out because they were clinically indicated and were necessary for the purposes of diagnosis and treatment - not for a research project.