Letter: How thalidomide scandal broke

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Sir: An important truth is omitted in the article "The truth about the greatest campaign ever"(25 August). Without the parliamentary campaign, the efforts of The Sunday Times on thalidomide would have sunk in a legal quagmire. Yet Parliament is not mentioned in Phillip Knightley's report.

Harold Evans, the then editor of The Sunday Times, later wrote that legal threats from Distillers and the Attorney General were gagging the media. "For the first 23 days of the campaign we had no coverage at all from the press."

The breakthrough came when I used parliamentary privilege to attack Distillers through questions and an early day motion. The legal gag was stripped away and the media began to report the attack. The major parliamentary debate that followed was described by Evans as "the turning point".

The parliamentary activity transferred discussion of thalidomide from hushed tones in legal chambers to shouted headlines on front pages. It made that controversy a national issue. Once public opinion was aroused, victory was assured.


(Lord Ashley of Stoke)

House of Lords

London SW1