Regulator to contact research charity about 'links' to controversial vaccine doctor

The Charity Commission wants to speak to Visceral about alleged links with Andrew Wakefield, whose claims that the MMR vaccine was connected with the appearance of autism

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The Charity Commission is contacting a medical research charity about its links to the controversial measles, mumps and rubella vaccine doctor Andrew Wakefield.

According to The Times newspaper, Wakefield, who in 1998 published a controversial and now discredited study about the links between the MMR vaccine and autism, has been receiving money from a number of US charities.

The Times says that payments to Wakefield include salaries and expenses from the UK charity Visceral, which supports research into gut disease.

The claims will be discussed in a Channel 4 documentary that is due to be broadcast tonight.

The charity’s most recent accounts for the year ending 31 July 2014 say that Wakefield was the charity’s chief medical scientist until February 2005 and was honorary chief medical scientist thereafter.

The charity has not submitted its accounts for the years to 31 July 2014 and 31 July 2015 to the Charity Commission, but has submitted its accounts to Companies House.

According to the Companies House website, Visceral was dissolved on 20 September 2016. It remains, however, on the charities register.

A spokesman for the Charity Commission said: "The commission is aware of the concerns raised in a media article regarding links between the charity Visceral and Andrew Wakefield. The commission will contact the charity to ask what, if any, relationships exist between the charity and Mr Wakefield. The commission will also request that the charity submit its outstanding accounts."

The 2014 accounts confirm that both Wakefield and Robert Sawyer, chief executive of Visceral until April 2005 and then honorary chief executive and trustee from May 2005, are directors of Medical Interventions for Autism.

MIA provided £137,162 in grant funding to Visceral in 2005, but has not provided any funding since that year, the accounts show.

The 2014 accounts say the charity had an income of £679 and spent £8,425. In comparison, the charity had an income of £845 and spent £14,173 the previous year.

The accounts also reveal that Visceral rented office space from Ashlar 2 Limited, which is owned by Ashlar Group Limited, a company that is 50 per cent controlled by Sawyer.

The charity’s most recent accounts say that some of its work is "seen as challenging public health policy on childhood vaccination, particularly the use of multiple vaccines such as MMR".

The accounts also say: "All the trustees of Visceral and the researchers supported thereby acknowledge the vital value of childhood vaccination; nonetheless, this should not be allowed to override scientific studies of the possible effects and consequences thereof in some children."

Visceral did not respond to a request for comment by Third Sector before a deadline of midday today.

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