Libel doctor Peter Wilmshurst could lose his house

The cardiologist being sued for libel by an American corporation over comments he made about its clinical trials could lose his home because of the costs of the action, it has emerged.

The danger became clear yesterday as Dr Peter Wilmshurst went to the High Court to apply for security for costs from NMT Medical.

The hearing will decide whether the company should pay money into court to ensure that it can cover Wilmshurst's costs if he wins the case.

Although the libel battle has now been going on for three years, NMT Medical has not put any money into court.

Wilmshurst's costs have already exceeded £250,000 - and losing the case could mean that he will also lose his home, his solicitor, Mark Lewis, of law firm Taylor Hampton.

Early in November NMT Medical threatened to launch a fresh libel case against Dr Wilmshurst over comments he made about his case in a story on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme piece about the chilling effects of English libel laws on scientific and medical discussions.

The Libel Reform Campaign is calling for widespread reform of the libel law, including a public interest defence, to protect scientific and medical discussion.

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, part of the Libel Reform Campaign, said: "It is not acceptable that because of the inadequacies of English libel law, a scientist faces losing his home, because there is no straightforward public interest defence he can rely on.

"Dr Peter Wilmshurst made his comments at an academic conference, and yet he finds himself sued by a US corporation. We need reform now."

Lewis said: "If you had to add an extra ingredient to the enormous pressure on Peter to stop defending himself, it could only be the risk that he faces of financial ruin even if he wins. NMT want to fight on even though they suggest that they will not be able to pay his costs if they lose. This is as important as it gets."

Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science, part of the libel reform campaign said: "We should be very grateful that Peter has been willing to face bankruptcy to defend the importance of open discussions in medicine.

"But we should be very worried about the many cases where people have no chance of standing up to the threats of organisations with legal and financial muscle and have no choice but to fall silent."

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