Regulator contacts Autism Trust after media stories on 'dangerous treatments'

The Charity Commission has acted in response to stories in The Times and on Buzzfeed, the latter claiming that the charity's website promotes dangerous and unlicensed treatments for autism

The Charity Commission has contacted the Autism Trust UK after the Buzzfeed news website accused the charity of promoting dangerous and unlicensed treatments for autism.

The article, published on Saturday, claimed the Surrey-based charity had shared links on its social media channels to sites apparently promoting various treatments for autism that have long been condemned as dangerous.

The article followed a news story in The Times newspaper on 2 February, which described the charity’s founder Polly Tommey of being "at the forefront of the dangerous anti-vaccine campaign" after she produced Vaxxed, a film repeating the now discredited link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

The film was directed by the former doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose now discredited and retracted study first sparked fears that the vaccine caused autism in 1998.

Tommey founded the Autism Trust UK in 2007 after her son was diagnosed with the condition. It has objects to provide education, support and skills training for adults with autism.

She is still listed as one of the charity’s trustees on the Charity Commission website, although she now lives in Austin, Texas, according to the charity.

The Buzzfeed article said the charity’s Twitter and Facebook accounts linked to various websites that promote treatments for autism. These included: GcMAF, a stem-cell blood treatment; Mineral Miracle Solution, a chlorine-based bleach; chelation, which is the chemical removal of heavy metals from the bloodstream; and vitamin B12 injections

The UK’s largest autism charity, the National Autistic Society, has described MMS as a "bleach banned for human consumption", the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has warned people not to use GcMAF, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence explicitly warns that chelation and B12 injections should not be used as core autism treatments.

The NAS has also said it is clear that there is no link between MMR vaccines and autism.

According to the Buzzfeed article, many of the links that appear on the charity’s social media go to Autism Mothers, a Facebook page started by Tommey that contains links to various websites promoting such treatments and claiming that there are links between MMR vaccines and autism.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: "The commission is assessing the issues raised in the media regarding the Autism Trust Limited and is in contact with the charity to determine what, if any, regulatory role there might be for us."

A statement on the charity’s website responding to The Times and Buzzfeed pieces described Tommey as a campaigner for "vaccine integrity", but says the charity’s "focus centres solely on creating a future and purpose for young adults with autism".

It says that "inaccurate and misleading information regarding the Autism Trust UK undermines this work", but it does not dispute any of the news outlets’ claims directly.

Tommey also published a Periscope video, which appeared on the charity’s Twitter page, responding to questions from Buzzfeed.

In it, she said she was not involved in the day-to-day running of the charity, repeatedly denied knowing what GcMAF and Mineral Miracle Solution were and said people on the Autism Mothers page were free to post any links they wanted to share.

She also confirmed her belief in the link between vaccinations and autism.

The charity had an income of £36,000 and spending of £51,000 in the year to 31 December 2015, according to the Charity Commission website.

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