THE doctor who suggested the MMR vaccine might cause autism, leading to a collapse in immunisation levels, "showed a callous disregard" for the suffering of children, a disciplinary panel has ruled.
Andrew Wakefield "abused his position of trust" during the conduct of his research, the panel said.
He took blood samples from children at his son's birthday party in return for payments of £5 and later joked about it in a presentation in the US in a manner that brought the medical profession "into disrepute".
The blood was used in research, published in The Lancet in February 1998, that suggested a link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism. The verdict was delivered by the General Medical Council, the doctors' disciplinary body in Britain, after the longest hearing in its history, lasting two and a half years.
But it was rejected by supporters of Dr Wakefield, who heckled panel chairman Dr Surendra Kumar as he delivered the ruling at the GMC's London headquarters.
One woman shouted: "These doctors have not failed our children. You are outrageous."
The GMC panel further found that Dr Wakefield acted "dishonestly" and was "misleading" and "irresponsible" in the way he described The Lancet study, which triggered the scare.
He failed to state that the children were "part of a project to investigate a postulated new syndrome", many of whom he had "actively recruited".
He also failed to disclose that he had applied for a patent on a single measles vaccine nine months before publication of The Lancet paper, which the panel found was "contrary to his duties" as its senior author.
The panel said it was "not concerned with whether there is or might be any link between the MMR vaccination and autism". It focused exclusively on the "conduct, duties and responsibility" of the doctors involved in the research.
Two colleagues of Dr Wakefield -- Professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch -- were also charged.
All three were found to have subjected children to invasive investigations, including painful lumbar punctures and explorations of the bowel, which were "not clinically indicated" but which lacked Ethics Committee approval for research.
Dr Wakefield was not present to hear the verdicts but later appeared outside the GMC, in front of placard-waving supporters. He said he was "extremely disappointed" at the findings.
In Ireland, the number of parents vaccinating their children reached a worryingly low number the year after the findings were published.
To prevent an outbreak of disease, the World Health Organisation recommends that 95pc of the susceptible population be immunised.
However, in 2000, the national figure was only 69pc and an outbreak of 1,600 cases of measles in Dublin resulted in three child fatalities.
The GMC will now consider whether the facts proved against Dr Wakefield and his colleagues amount to serious professional misconduct and what sanction, if any, to apply.