By Patricia McDonagh

Tuesday January 04 2011

VICTIMS of controversial vaccine trials are taking a High Court case to get confidential records on the medical experiments carried out on them as children in the care of the State.

A Dublin-based solicitor is preparing the action on behalf of Mari Steed (50), now living in the US city of Philadelphia, and Christopher Kirwan (50), from Cork, the Irish Independent has learned.

Vincent Shannon, of Shannons Solicitors, is planning to apply to the High Court for an order of discovery this month to acquire all the victims’ documents from four organisations at the centre of the scandal.

This will include Ms Steed and Mr Kirwan’s medical records, and documents that reveal if consent was given by their mothers for the trials.

More than 211 vulnerable infants and babies, 123 of whom were in the care of the State, took part in three confirmed trials to test new vaccines between 1960 and 1973.

The trials, one of which was carried out in the Sacred Heart Convent in Bessborough, Cork, were conducted by the Wellcome Foundation, whose income came from British drugs maker Burroughs Wellcome — later subsumed into drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

But it remains unclear whether the parents or guardians of the children consented to the trials, or if the foundation complied with Irish licensing legislation.

As well as these tests, details of previously unknown trials were handed over by GSK to the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. A brief paragraph in the commission’s third interim report, in January 2004, confirmed the receipt of relevant documents.

It is so far not known how many people were involved, whether children in state care were used for the trials or what medicines were tested.

Mr Shannon said the action, if successful, would compel the Department of Health and Children, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Bessborough, GlaxoSmithKline and the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse to release all records relating to Ms Steed and Mr Kirwan.

If the records show that they have suffered as a result of the trials, Mr Shannon said the case would proceed to ask the court for an apology and damages.

“The proposed action (would) look for medical assistance for the victims’ physical or psychological injury as a result of the trials and damages for breach of their constitutional rights and assault,” Mr Shannon told the Irish Independent.

Correspondence seen by the Irish Independent shows the organisations continue to hold documents on the trials.

GlaxoSmithKline’s legal representative, law firm McCann FitzGerald, said: “We confirm that our client continues to hold records relating to the Irish vaccine trials conducted by The Wellcome Foundation Limited and intends to do so for the foreseeable future.”


The Department of Health said all departmental records were retained “in line with normal procedures”.

A solicitor for the Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Bessborough said files were held in secure storage and it had “no intention” of destroying them.

The commission shut down its investigations into the trials on foot of a court case.

As revealed in the Irish Independent earlier this year, Ms Steed (50) was effectively used as a guinea pig during the ‘four-in-one’ vaccine trials carried out on her between December 1960 and October 1961, in Bessborough, when she was between nine and 18 months old.

Mr Kirwan — who still has marks from the vaccine injections all over his body — was also in Bessborough during that time and claims to have been involved in the trials.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said victims had been forced to take action at “great personal expense” because of the State’s failure to investigate the trials.

“Once again the department has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. They are cynically avoiding an investigation into this scandal.”

The Department of Health refused to comment last night.

– Patricia McDonagh


3 Responses to “Vaccine trial victims in court bid to lift veil on experiments”

  1. Rob Northall says:

    More Stalling Tactics!!
    They will eventually have to disclose; even if this has to be taken to Europe!

  2. Mossie says:

    Controversy over vaccine trial files
    By Claire O’Sullivan and Conall O’Fatharta
    MONDAY, JANUARY 24, 2011

    PARTICIPANTS in controversial vaccine trials in mother-and-baby homes have been told by the Department of Health that it can’t give them their medical files or any trial documentation as it is legally bound to return the files to the drugs company.

    The files are in the hands of the Laffoy Commission on Child Abuse, which was forced to halt its vaccine trials investigation following a 2002 court case.

    Last night, Brenda McVeigh of the commission confirmed that they were “undertaking an examination of all documentation that they have and cataloguing it”. She said no files have yet been returned to Glaxo SmithKline.

    A letter from the Department of Health to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, seen by the Irish Examiner, states that the department cannot hand over the documentation to the committee or to participants as legally “it is not possible for that material to be used for any other purpose” other than Laffoy Commission investigations.

    “In the circumstances, I understand from the commission that they will be returning all documentation to the source that originally provided it”, the letter read.

    The vaccine trials will be discussed by the Joint Committee in private tomorrow.

    One of its members, Labour’s Kathleen Lynch, last night said the files have to be handed to the people used in the trials, irrespective of recent court rulings.

    “I firmly believe the files must be given to victims as a human right. But until they are handed over and until this is finalised, they must be protected and must not be destroyed by any body or any company,” she said.

    Up to 211 children were given the test vaccines in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. Now adults, the participants say the drugs were given without parental consent and they have spent years trying to access their medical files and pharmaceutical information from that time.

    They are also seeking previously unseen files obtained by the Laffoy Commission from medical companies.

    The Laffoy Commission was investigating vaccine trials between 1940 and 1987 as part of a separate module. However, the commission’s investigation was brought to a sudden halt after court action taken by the doctors involved in the trials.

    Last September, after it emerged that a woman now living in the US was seeking to sue the Sacred Heart Order and Glaxo SmithKline about the administration of the vaccines, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children decided to revisit the vaccine trials issue.

    The committee wrote to Glaxo SmithKline seeking information on the trials. The company said the documentation contained sensitive personal information and they wouldn’t hand it over without judicial order.

    This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, January 24, 2011

    Read more:

  3. Rob Northall says:

    It is good to see some action on this matter! I look forward to reading more!

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