Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 10:13 UK

Chiropractors' libel case dropped against Simon Singh

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Simon Singh
Dr Singh challenged the evidence for some chiropractic claims

The British Chiropractic Association has dropped its libel action against the science writer Simon Singh.

Dr Singh was being sued by the organisation because of comments he had made in the Guardian in 2008 about the effectiveness of chiropractic.

The case itself had sparked an intense debate about the role of libel actions in areas of scientific controversy.

Dr Singh recently won an appeal that would have allowed him to use the fair comment defence in the case.

On Thursday, the website of William McCormick QC, one of the barristers acting for Simon Singh, said the British Chiropractic Association has served a "Notice of Discontinuance". This means the case is now over.

Dr Singh said he was hugely relieved, but expressed his annoyance that libel actions continued to be used to block what he viewed as legitimate scientific inquiry and debate.

"Other scientists, science writers, bloggers, investigative journalists, human rights activists - all get threatened with these libel suits," he told BBC News. "And at the end of the day, the people who lose out are the general public because we don't get to find out the real truth because these libel suits just stop good journalism."

Dr Singh said he was still waiting to find out how the costs of the case would be borne. He said his defence had so far cost him in excess of £100,000.

April 2008: Publishes blog on Guardian website criticising British Chiropractic Association. It sues for libel
May 2009: High Court rules article's wording implied BCA was being consciously dishonest
February 2010: Challenges ruling at the Court of Appeal, using defence of fair comment
April 2010: Wins appeal on technical point, that the statements can be regarded as comment
April 2010: BCA issues 'Notice of Discontinuance'. Case is over

In the article in April 2008, Dr Singh suggested there was a lack of evidence for the claims some chiropractors made on treating certain childhood conditions such as colic and asthma.

The BCA alleged that Dr Singh had effectively accused its leaders of knowingly supporting bogus treatments.

The case had become a cause celebre for the science community and led to calls for defamation law to be rewritten so it did not interfere with scientific discussion.

The BCA issued a statement [PDF] confirming its withdrawal from the action. It said the recent appeal won by Dr Singh on the terms of his defence had prompted its decision.

"While it still considers that the article was defamatory of the BCA, the [recent appeal] decision provides Dr Singh with a defence such that the BCA has taken the view that it should withdraw to avoid further legal costs being incurred by either side," its statement read.

"As those who have followed the publicity surrounding this case will know, Simon Singh has said publicly that he had never intended to suggest that the BCA had been dishonest. The BCA accepts this statement, which goes some way to vindicating its position."

Chiropractic is regarded as a complementary or alternative therapy, and is offered in some areas of the UK on the NHS.

It involves the use of physical manipulation to treat problems with joints, bones and muscles, with particular emphasis on the spine, which is why chiropractors tend to be associated with treating bad backs.

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