'Thalidomide' doctor alleges plot to gag him

IN THE wake of a dramatic fall from grace, William McBride, the Australian doctor who first alerted the world to the dangers of the thalidomide anti-nausea drug, has accused international drug companies of a conspiracy to bring about his demise.

Dr McBride, once an Australian medical hero, was struck off the country's medical register and declared unfit to practise last year after being found guilty of scientific fraud. The charges related to experiments in 1980 in which he sought to prove that Debendox, another anti-morning- sickness drug, caused birth deformities as thalidomide had done 20 years earlier.

Dr McBride's letter to the Lancet in 1961, following his observations of pregnant women in his Sydney practice, was the first public warning that thalidomide could cause deformities in the babies of women who took it during pregnancy. The drug was later withdrawn from the market and Distillers, the company which sold it, faced an avalanche of legal cases in Britain and Australia.

As Dr McBride awaits the verdict from an appeal against his punishment over the Debendox affair, he opened another controversy yesterday with the publication of a book in which he claims that Marion Merrell Dow, the United States pharmaceuticals giant which marketed Debendox, worked in concert with an unnamed 'mole' in Australia to stop him from speaking out against the drug.

Dr McBride appeared as a witness against Merrell Dow in several US court cases during the 1980s in which parents blamed Debendox for deformities in their children. The flood of threatened litigation in the US, Britain and elsewhere became so heavy that Merrell Dow withdrew Debendox from the market in 1983, saying it could not afford the legal bills. The company has won 30 out of 32 cases which have gone through the US courts; two cases are on appeal.

Dr McBride's downfall began in 1987 when a radio science programme in Australia accused him of faking experiments with scopolamine, a travel-sickness drug which has similar actions to a component of Debendox. An inquiry set up by Foundation 41, the Sydney research institute which he headed (named after the 40 weeks of pregnancy and the first week after birth), found the case against him proved.

The New South Wales medical tribunal launched an inquiry into the same charges. It dragged on for three and a half years, ending with Dr McBride being struck off last July. In his book, Killing the Messenger, Dr McBride writes: 'Without flattering myself, I am sure the decision was received with pleasure by many of the international drug companies.'

He describes how John Crabb, a retired rear-admiral in the Australian navy, and then doing intelligence work, alerted him in 1980 of a bizarre event. According to Mr Crabb, George Barnes, a Los Angeles private investigator, approached him, saying that he had been hired by a pharmaceutical company against which Dr McBride was then giving evidence in the US; he was seeking information about the doctor. Mr Barnes said that 'money was no object'. Dr McBride writes: 'Admiral Crabb warned me that he was sure Barnes would make contact with someone in Australia who would head the McBride operation, the object of which was to procure evidence adverse to me.'

Mr Crabb confirmed the book's account yesterday. But John Baker, managing director of Marion Merrell Dow in Australia, dismissed the conspiracy theory. 'It is entirely incorrect. There is no factual basis for it. The company isn't in the business of encouraging conspiracies. We had nothing to do with the inquiry into Dr McBride. We shall be closely examining his book and reserving our right to take whatever action.'

Mr Baker said that the scientific evidence in favour of Debendox was 'totally overwhelming'.

After one of the most spectacular falls the medical world has seen, Dr McBride remained unrepentant yesterday over his latest allegations. His legal bills of 2.2m Australian dollars ( pounds 1m) to cover the inquiry forced him to sell his three homes and he is now largely shunned by the society which once lauded him.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own