The highly unusual action is the latest twist in a long-running saga concerning the research findings of the man at the centre of the case, Professor Christopher Gillberg.
If found guilty, the charges could lead to fines or up to two years imprisonment.
Gillberg is one of the pioneers of the diagnosis of ‘Deficit in Attention, Motor function and Perception’ or DAMP, which claims that a number of children with behavioural or learning difficulties have congenital brain defects. The diagnosis is well-established in Sweden, but sociologist Eva Kärfve from Lund and paediatrician Leif Elinder have always been sceptical regarding its validity and evidence base.
A feud between the three academics started in June 2002, when Kärfwe and Elinder accused Gillberg of falsifying research results and demanded to examine his material at Gothenburg University’s Sahlgrenska Academy. Gillberg refused claiming he would be in breach of patient confidentiality.
Having repeatedly failed to get Sahlgrenska Academy to reverse their decision, Kärfwe and Elinder went to court and in February 2003 a court of appeal in Gothenburg found in their favour and ordered Gillberg to release the material. He was refused leave to appeal to the supreme court.
Gillberg continued to refuse to release the material, maintaining that it would be unethical to do so. The vice chancellor tried to implement the court decision, but failed to get possession of the documents. The culmination came in May 2004, when, with Gillberg in London, three members of his team, including his wife, shredded 100,000 pages and two decades of state funded research. This included four phd theses and the basis for government guidelines and the diagnosis of hundreds of thousands of children.
The Justice Ombudsman accuses vice chancellor, Gunnar Svedberg, and chairman of the university’s board, Arne Wittlöv, of failing to implement the court’s decision vigorously enough. Kerstin André of the ombudsman’s office said:
“It’s unprecedented for a public body to go against a court decision and refuse to hand over documents. It would undermine the entire principle of openness if an authority could decide not to publicise documents just because an employee was against it.”
The employee in question, Christopher Gillberg, was not available for comment. But both Wittlöv and Svedberg were surprised at the ombudman’s decision. The latter told TT:
“We have absolutely not been dilatory. We’ve done our best to gain access to the material.”
According to GP, the reason for the vice chancellor’s failure to get his hands on the documents was the fear of physical violence. He told the paper:
“It came to our attention that they were shielding the documents with their bodies. I can’t predict what the consequences would have been if we’d used physical violence to access the archive.”
Not surprisingly, Gillberg’s nemeses Eva Kärfwe and Leif Elinder, were pleased with developments. Kärfwe told GP:
“This shows the judicial system actually works. I’m glad that the arguments about confidentiality put forward by Gillberg and his colleagues have not been accepted.”
In a further interview with TT, she said:
“This decision strengthens the protection of research in Sweden and shows that it’s possible to review research retrospectively, whilst maintaining the confidentiality of those who have taken part in the studies.”
The three colleagues who shredded the material in question are the subjects of a separate investigation.