The medical research that led to thousands of families shunning the triple MMR vaccine was exposed as "entirely flawed" yesterday.
MMR maverick Dr Andrew Wakefield is facing a General Medical Council investigation after he was accused of failing to declare a critical conflict of interest during research for a seminal journal report.
The medical journal, the Lancet, published the gastroenterologist's theories in 1998 - but its editor has now spoken of his "regret" at doing so.
The Lancet article was based on the cases of eight children referred to the Royal Free Hospital, London, with a rare bowel disease.
It argued that the MMR might be triggering a rare bowel disease - which in turn might cause autism.
It emerged yesterday that up to five of the children were referred by a lawyer, collecting cases for a legal action over claims linking MMR to autism.
And, a Sunday Times investigation, found, Dr Wakefield had been paid £55,000 by the legal aid board to conduct a medical assessment of the claims.
Lancet editor Dr Richard Horton expressed "regret" about the publication after seeing the Sunday Times evidence last week and admitted it was "entirely flawed".
Health secretary John Reid yesterday led calls for a General Medical Council investigation into the affair.
One of Dr Wakefield's fellow researchers, Dr Simon Murch, told the Sunday Times: "We didn't know. We were pretty taken aback. The timing of it before the paper is something we have all been shocked by.
"If you have a colleague who has not told you, if you have not been informed you are going to be taken aback."
He added: "I am not going to join the queue of people rushing up to kick Andy. But it is right that this has come out: there has been a complete conflict of interest."
The Sunday Times quoted Dr Wakefield, in comments apparently issued through a public relations company, as saying: "I believe that this paper was conducted in good faith. It reported the findings. There was no conflict of interest.
"Do we have any reasons to change our opinion? No, but then again it's a debate."