NMT Medical defamation cases against Dr Peter Wilmshurst discontinued

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The three defamation cases brought by US medical device company NMT Medical against cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst have been discontinued.

Earlier this year, NMT Medical, who have pursued Dr Wilmshurst in the London libel courts for almost four years, announced it was ceasing operations and selling off its assets.

Peter Wilmshurst said: “My family and I are very relieved that the three defamation claims brought against me by NMT Medical have finally ended after almost 4 years. I never believed that the claims were brought to protect NMT's reputation in this country, but that they were started so that the enormous financial and time costs of the litigation would prevent discussion of concerns about a clinical trial involving patients in the UK. That a foreign corporation was able to do this shows that amendment of these laws is badly needed to protect patients and the rights of scientists to discuss research. The costs were so great that defence of my case would have been very difficult but for the willingness of lawyers Mark Lewis and Alastair Wilson QC to act for me on a Conditional Fee Agreement ("no win, no fee"). I am very grateful to them and to the other individuals and organisations that supported me, including Sense about Science and Health Watch.”

Simon Singh, science writer and Libel Reform Campaigner said:England’s expensive and anti-free speech laws essentially gagged Dr Wilmshurst from speaking out for three years. It is great news that Peter has now won his case and he can get back to his career and his family. The bad news is that England’s current libel laws will continue to discourage scientists, journalists, journals and newspapers from speaking out on matters of serious public interest. Only the most tenacious and bloody-minded of doctors would dare to speak out while our laws are so antagonistic towards libel defendants. Even more worrying, the Government’s current draft defamation bill is not radical enough to change the situation. I hope Peter’s miserable experience serves as a reminder to the Ministry of Justice that we need a libel law that acts in the public interest.”

Mark Lewis, solicitor for Dr Wilmshurst said: “At the start of the case, NMT was solvent, it ended because it ran out of money. Libel is about reputations not about scientific challenges. The lesson to be learnt from BCA v Singh and NMT v Wilmshurst – companies shouldn’t sue about scientific debates”

Síle Lane, Campaigns Manager of Sense About Science, part of the Libel Reform Campaign said: “We are delighted that Peter’s libel cases are now over and we should be very grateful that Peter has been willing to face bankruptcy to defend the importance of open discussions in medicine. But we should be very worried about the many cases where people have no chance of standing up to the threats of organisations with legal and financial muscle and have no choice but to fall silent. As it stands, the Government’s draft defamation bill does not protect individuals like Peter. A stronger Public interest defence must be included.”

Dr Evan Harris of the Libel Reform Campaign said: "The key message from this saga is that despite a brave stance from resolute scientist, libel suits can close down debate on matters of vital public interest for years. This is why proper libel reform must mean no right of companies to sue without showing malice and actual loss, an effective public interest defence, a rule that prevents claimants suing in London when the vast majority of the offending publication is elsewhere, and the ability of scientists to freely debate the peer reviewed scientific literature."

Mike Harris, Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship, part of the Libel Reform Campaign said: “If it wasn’t for Peter’s determination, serious concerns over a heart device would have been silenced and patients across the globe would be none the wiser. The government is in the process of redrafting our libel laws, we need a stronger public interest defence, that protects individuals like Dr. Wilmshurst.”