No link between sudden death of teenager and MR vaccine, coroner finds

No link has been established between the sudden death of a Co Down teenager in 1994 and him receiving an MR vaccine 10 days earlier, a coroner has found.

Instead, coroner Suzanne Anderson recorded the death of 15-year-old Christopher Coulter at his home in Hillsborough as a case of sudden, unexplained death in adolescence.

Ms Anderson was delivering her findings in the second inquest into the death of the Belfast Cathedral choirboy.

A first inquest in 1995 ruled that Christopher died from asphyxiation due to a severe epileptic fit.

But a second inquest was ordered by former Attorney General John Larkin in 2012 following a campaign by the schoolboy’s parents who said there was no history of epilepsy in the family and who believed that the combined measles and rubella (MR) vaccine played a part.

The MR vaccine has since been replaced by the MMR vaccination.

Peter Hain contempt of court case
Former Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin ordered a fresh inquest into the death of Christopher Coulter (Paul Faith/PA)

Delivering her findings in Belfast, Ms Anderson said previous to his death Christopher had been a healthy schoolboy who had a gift for singing.

She said he received his MR vaccination at school on December 8 1994.

She told the court that days later he had reported feeling cold.

On the morning of December 18, the coroner said Christopher’s father Harry went to waken him in his bedroom and found his son lying face down lifeless on the bed.

Following the verdict of the original inquest in 1995, solicitors representing the Coulter family applied to the Attorney General to direct a second inquest.

As part of their case they provided the Attorney General with a report from US-based paediatric neurologist Dr Marcel Kinsbourne, who had reviewed the case and claimed that, on the balance of probabilities, the vaccine did play a role in the death.

Ms Anderson said that Dr Kinsbourne had been due to give oral evidence during the second inquest but he had not made himself available and had provided no explanation for this.

She then outlined medical evidence which four experts had provided to the inquest disputing Dr Kinsbourne’s claims.

Delivering her conclusions, Ms Anderson referred to a claim brought by Christopher’s parents to a compensation tribunal in 2013 which ruled no causal link between the vaccination and the death of the teenager had been established.

She said: “Since the hearing of the first inquest this issue has already been litigated and ruled upon by the Vaccine Compensation Tribunal.

“The tribunal ruled that the causal link between vaccination and death had not been established.”

She added: “In this inquest two doctors, Dr Kinsbourne and Professor (Richard) Powell, put forward their separate hypothesis claiming that the vaccination was linked to the death.”

She said that she had found Professor Powell’s evidence “weak and unconvincing” and ruled it out on the balance of probabilities.”

She said this left Dr Kinsbourne’s opinion to be balanced against four experts who had appeared as witnesses.

She said: “These four experts gave oral evidence to the inquest and subjected themselves to questioning.

“This must be contrasted with Dr Kinsbourne who failed to make himself available for questioning.

“I concur with the majority view of the experts and find that no causal link between the vaccination and Christopher’s very sad death has been established.

“I shall record the cause of death as sudden, unexplained death in adolescence.

“Finally, I would like to express my very deep sympathies to Christopher’s parents and wider family.

“It is hard to imagine a more shocking and dreadful experience.

“I know they will be disappointed that the cause of death remains unascertained.”