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West Midlands health campaigners have accused the medical establishment of carrying out a "witch hunt" against controversial doctor Andrew Wakefield, who first suggested a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Wakefield and two colleagues could be struck off at a hearing which starts today in London.

The pressure groups JABS - Justice, Awareness and Basic Support - claims the measles/mumps/rubella triple jab was rushed into service by the Department of Health without adequate trials.

They say that officials - including the Chief Medical Officer Sir Kenneth Calman and Health Minister Tessa Jowell - ignored warnings about MMR, and continued to promote the vaccine even after serious side effects became evident.

JABS asks: “Based on this, which group of doctors should be examined for fitness to practice and considered under the charge of serious professional misconduct?”

As evidence of a “witch hunt”, they cite the fact that it’s fully nine years since the Lancet article which provoked the row - and that even now, no parent has ever complained.

For all that, Wakefield and two colleagues face serious charges.

It’s alleged they unethically gave autistic children painful and unnecessary medical interventions, such as lumbar punctures and colonoscopies, to try to demonstrate the complex link they believed existed between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism.

Wakefield is also accused of not revealing to the committee that he was getting money from the Legal Aid Board for advising parents of autistic children who wanted to pursue compensation through the courts.

All three deny any wrong doing.

West Midlands JABS spokesman Jonathan Harris from Sheldon, who has two autistic sons said: “We strongly believe that the hearing is completely wrong and is an effort to continue this witch hunt against Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues.

“I think that if there is to be an investigation, then an investigation should be conducted on the conduct and manner of the health officials who have acted irresponsibly in order to cover up what will be proved to be the greatest public health scandal since the inception of the health service.”

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