Preying on Hope


IPTV's 'Undercover Britain' documentary into bogus Aids medicine. The report, and a series of stories published by Duncan, caused a backlash of legal challanges by those investigated. Below you can find news reports concerning 'Preying on Hope' and Aids 'quackery.' 


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Doctor loses C4 libel case

Channel 4 has won a £2m libel battle with a Harley Street doctor who the channel claimed rigged tests and misdiagnosed a terminally ill Aids patient. Dr Peter Nixon halted his case against the channel's 1994 programmc, Preying On Hope, after five weeks at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Dr Nixon has gained a high profile for his theory that a list of diseases including Aids, Gulf War Syndrome, ME and premenstrual tension are attributable to hyperventilation.

However Channel 4 found that Dr Nixon rigged his patients' breathing tests by asking them to "breathe as if they were angry". He told lan Hughes, an Aids patient who died last summer, that his fatigue was caused by over breathing. Dr Nixon who had a turnover of more than £100,000 a year, recommends a course of Valium or diazepam and "two weeks of sleeping" as a cure for hyperventilation. Paul McCann

Independent (UK), 16 May 1997, page 2

Cardiologist admits research misconduct

Clare Dyer, legal correspondent, BMJ

A £2 million libel action brought against Channel Four by a former consultant cardiologist at one of London’s leading teaching hospitals collapsed last week after he admitted that errors in scientific papers co-authored by him appeared to be “more than an honest slip of the pen.” Dr Peter Nixon, a consultant in cardiology at Charing Cross Hospital until his retirement six years ago, withdrew his action and agreed to pay £765,520 in costs to Channel Four, which he claimed had branded him a charlatan, unfit to practice medicine.

In a comprehensive climbdown, he also agreed to the disclosure of all documents in the case to the General Medical Council -unless he voluntarily retires from practice in the meantime - and agreed not to take legal action if the allegations are repeated by Channel Four, the producer and journalist Duncan Campbell, or his production company.

Dr Nixon, who claimed that hyperventilation could cause a range of illnesses, including many heart attacks, Gulf War syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder and pre-menstrual tension, sued Channel Four, Mr Campbell and his company Investigation and Production (TV) limited over the programme “Preying on Hope”, broadcast in February 1994. The programme secretly filmed and recorded a consultation with an AIDS patient, Ian Hughes, who died in 1996. Dr Nixon told Mr Hughes that his debility was caused by hyperventilation, not AIDS, and prescribed an antihistamine and diazepam. The programme alleged that he had “rigged” the results of a breathing test by telling Mr Hughes to get “hugely angry, frustrated, trapped” while on the capnograph.

Dr Nixon, aged 71, who practised from private consulting rooms in Weymouth Street, outlined his theories in a series of articles in medical journals. is views were promoted in the Sunday Times by the then medical correspondent, Neville Hodgkinson, who wrote a front page article in 1988 claiming that Dr Nixon had found a 100 percent effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. Patients diagnosed as suffering from hyperventilation syndrome were treated by a course of diazepam to induce sleep, followed by physiotherapy and breathing training.

Admitted errors

Dr Nixon pulled out of the libel action after he was cross-examined by Channel Four’s QC, Desmond Browne, over a series of papers published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. He admitted that the articles contained a number of errors and said he had not written or in some cases even read all the papers which bore his name. The papers had not been peer reviewed to his knowledge, Dr Nixon said. He conceded under cross-examination that he had “no honest grounds” for claims that a “hypnotic challenge” test for diagnosing hyperventilation syndrome was a reliable test. He also agreed that he reached a false conclusion in claiming that the “think test” he devised, in which patients were told to think about anger or other negative emotions, was more effective than the standard forced hyperventilation provocation test (FHPT). He did not know how the errors had come about.

In a paper reporting on two groups, patients and controls, who were given the FHPT, Dr Nixon appeared to apply different percentage criteria to controls and patients, Mr Browne suggested. Dr Nixon agreed: “At the moment I cannot think of another explanation.” Asked whether the errors were not “so extensive that they could not simply be an honest slip of the pen”, he answered: “It appears to be more than an honest slip of the pen”. Mr Browne suggested it was dishonest because applying different criteria to the patients and controls would make the difference between the two groups appear greater. “Is there any other explanation for that other than scientific fraud?” he asked. Dr Nixon replied : “Carelessness”. He acknowledged that it “looked rather suspicious” that three patients of 27 reported on in a Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine paper had been removed when he later reported the same study in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. He conceded that this invalidated the results published in the latter journal, which had not been told about the earlier paper. Dr Nixon wrote a series of letters in the BMJ, the Lancet and other journals claiming to have found “effort syndrome” in all or virtually all of the patients who consulted him with diagnoses of chronic fatigue syndrome. But he failed to mention that there was a 55 percent false positive rate in asymptomatic controls.

No informed consent

He also admitted that at Charing Cross and in private practice, he had carried out exercise tests and other diagnostic tests, which could in some circumstances be fatal, without explaining the risks and getting patients’ informed consent, and had not sought the approval of Charing Cross ethics committee. Part way through his cross-examination, Dr Nixon’s lawyers told the judge, Mr Justice Morland, that he was not fit to continue giving evidence and produced a neurologist’s report and later two psychiatrists’ reports. The settlement leaves the Medical Defence Union, which backed Dr Nixon, facing a bill estimated at nearly £2 million, including its own costs.

British Medical Journal VOLUME 314 24 MAY 1997 page 1501

Writ large: Marcel Berlins

I 've never seen anything quite like the libel action settlement that was made recently. I say "settlement" but the words "humiliating and comprehensive climbdown" are more appropriate. The case, which attracted surprisingly little media attention, was brought by Dr Peter Nixon against Channel 4, the investigative journalist Duncan Campbell and his TV production company, over a programme which claimed that the doctor had rigged medical tests and published scientific papers riddled with errors.

After four weeks of trial in which the programme's allegations were confirmed, some even admitted by Nixon, he caved in. He has to pay the defendants a £765,000 contribution to their legal costs. He is not allowed to claim that he discontinued the case mainly on health grounds. He has agreed not to take action if Channel 4 or Duncan Campbell repeat their accusations. Finally, he is expected to retire from medical practice within weeks - if he does not all the documents in the libel case will be sent to the General Medical Council for action. I understand, however, that he is being allowed to continue breathing.

Guardian (UK), 27 May 1997, G2 supplement