Admission of false Aids case suppressed by NHS

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An admission that research showing the world's first case of Aids - involving a Manchester man who died in 1959 - was false has been suppressed by NHS officials.

Central Manchester Healthcare NHS Trust refused permission for one of its scientists, Dr Gerald Corbitt, to send a letter of retraction to the Lancet, which in 1990 published research ``proving'' that the 1959 patient was infected with HIV.

The science journal Nature today publishes the evidence that categorically refutes the 1990 study. A re-analysis of tissue material dating back to 1959 failed to find any evidence of HIV with the most sensitive techniques available. Scientists also found that tissue used in the 1990 study did not appear to come from the 1959 patient.

After articles in the Independent on 24 March, where the Lancet research was shown to be false, senior representatives of the trust, which runs the Manchester Royal Infirmary, told Dr Corbitt not to submit the retraction he had prepared.

Angela Anderson, a spokeswoman for the trust, yesterday denied any knowledge of Dr Corbitt's letter.

``I'm not aware of any letter, but I can't say it doesn't exist because I don't know,'' she said.

However Dr Corbitt, who has since been told not to talk to the press, had previously told the Independent: ``The results we produced in 1990 and published are clearly invalidated for whatever reasons.'' Asked whether he intended to publish a correction, Dr Corbitt replied: "Indeed. I'm the first to agree with you on this. I've got a letter in draft.''

However, after a meeting with his trust employers, Dr Corbitt was asked again about the letter. ``I've been put on hold for the time being. That's not my decision,'' he said.

Dr Corbitt had also told David Ho, the New York scientist who had uncovered problems with the 1990 research, about the letter.

Dr Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond Aids Research Center, said: ``Corbitt did say he wanted to send a retraction to the Lancet, but he never sent me a copy of that and he never said why not.''

At the centre of the dispute is tissue taken from the corpse of David Carr, 25 - who died mysteriously in 1959 - which was stored for more than 30 years.