Social Audit Ltd
P O Box 111 London NW1 8XG
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Lis Birrane, Chief Press Officer
Department of Health
Richmond House, Whitehall
London SW1

10 June 2003

Dear Ms Birrane,

Yesterday afternoon, I telephoned your Mr Steve Ryan to say I wanted to attend the press conference on Seroxat, held this morning. Mr Ryan asked me where I was from and I told him. He seemed satisfied and told me if I came to Richmond House at 10.15 he would sign me in.

When I arrived at Richmond House this morning, Mr Ryan refused to allow me in; he seemed to be taking his instructions from Ms Alison Langley. Mr Ryan sought to suggest that he could not recall making any commitment, pleading that he had dealt with many telephone calls that day. He also hinted that I had misled him about my press credentials, which was neither true nor fair. Ms Langley’s explanation was that that Panorama had called her and asked that I might attend and that she had refused.

Outside the building, I later asked Mr Ryan for copies of all papers supplied to journalists who did attend the briefing. Mr Ryan produced only a press release. When I told him I had asked for all papers, he initially denied there were others, but later produced paper copies of the slides shown. I can confirm that I was verbally aggressive towards him though, in view of the provocation, I thought I was remarkably restrained.

This is the second occasion I have been debarred from meetings relating to the safety of Seroxat and other SSRIs. Last November I was refused permission to attend a meeting of the now disbanded ‘Intensive Review,’ to give evidence about safety concerns about Seroxat and other SSRIs. The excuse then was that I was "not a scientist;" now the problem seems to be that I’m "not a journalist."

I am now writing to ask about the circumstances that led to my exclusion, with a view, if appropriate, to making a further complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Please treat the following as formal questions under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

1. Was I denied access to this press conference solely on the authority of Ms Langley? If not, at precisely what level was that decision authorised?

2. What did the Department hope to gain by excluding me?

3. Is my exclusion felt to be consistent with the Department’s commitment (mentioned in today’s press release) to take ‘very seriously’ the recent concerns expressed by patient groups and in the media, in relation to the safety of SSRIs?

4. Why did Ms Langley think it appropriate to refuse Panorama’s request that I attend with them?

5. Will the Department now undertake to invite me to any and all future press briefings at which the safety of SSRIs will be discussed?

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you, as will some proportion of the 350,000/year visitors to the Social Audit website, in addition to the many journalists who regularly seek my views on the safety of SSRIs.

Yours sincerely,
Charles Medawar


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