Quack Totnes Cancer Conference Ends in Farce

tchc

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Dr Stephen Hopwood was opening a new alternative cancer clinic in Totnes, Devon, that was to “offer real alternatives to the conventional approach to cancer health care”.

To celebrate the opening, Hopwood was holding a cancer conference, inviting people with cancer to come along, and inviting a range of cancer cure peddlers to temp attendees with their magic beans.

What followed was quite extraordinary.

Local Devon MP, Dr Sarah Wollaston, after re tweeting my blog post, got in contact with the local Trading Standards. She was not the first to do so; prior to my post, others had also expressed their concerns.

Trading Standards have recently come under academic attack for failing to act on breaches of various consumer protection laws around health claims. A study placed 39 complaints to various Trading Standards. None resulted in prosecution; many complaints were simply ignored.

But the involvement of a local MP no doubt prompted TS into action and the BBC reported that they had initiated an investigation into claims that the clinic and conference were in breach of the Cancer Act of 1939. Hopwood accused the MP for being a “shop front” for the pharmaceutical industry. Classy.

A local Trading Standards Officer told Hopwood,

In view of the above I would advise you to remove the above references regarding the treatment, either by direct means or otherwise, of cancer from your website, and other documents associated with your business. I would also recommend that you remove any other references made regarding the treatment of cancer not specified above. Failure to do so could render your business liable for prosecution under the above legislation. I would request that these references are removed within the next 7 days.

Unexpectedly, local radio station Totnes FM waded in to report the story. Given that Totnes is a hotbed of New Age thinking and the radio station airs programmes such as “The Psychedelic Shed” and “Totnes Tales” with their in house medium, I was surprised at their no nonsense approach to the story. They kept people up to date with the latest developments and even invited Dr Hopwood on for an hour where he was given the grilling of his life.

Totnes FM reported that the local council had voted to deny the conference the use of the Town Hall. That posed Hopwood a tricky problem with only a few days to find another venue. And quickly it was reported that the conference would now take place at the nearby Sandwell Barns Eden Rise Retreat Centre. As this was not public property, the council were now powerless to stop the event going forward.

In addition, Hopwood decided to drop his star speaker, Dr Simoncini – a man convicted of swindling and wrongful death who believes cancer is a fungus and can be treated with baking soda. Simoncini became the sacrificial lamb to try to ward off the critics. On the radio show, Hopwood said that he now had concerns about Simoncini “I think he overstepped the mark, making false claims for his findings, but I believe what he had to say holds some truths and principles.”

I am not clear about what truths and principles there are in stating that “cancer is a fungus that can be cured with baking powder.”

Hopwood was adamant that the conference would go on. But then at the last minute, Trading Standards decided to wade and state that the event would be illegal. TS said, “Even the title of the conference and the title of your clinic, in our view, are likely to breach the legislation because of their promotion of cancer treatment.”

One of the proposed speakers at the event, vitamin pill industry lobbyist, Robert Verkerk posted on his site that the event would still go ahead but now be an ‘private conversation for invited guests”’. And then promptly gave an email address to reply to if you would like to be ‘invited’.

It would suggest to me that Hopwood had decided to thumb his nose to the local MP, the local council and Trading Standards and proceed anyway, but use weasel words to try to suggest they had changed the nature of the event,

We are not promoting any therapy for the prevention or treatment of cancer…we are administering a range of healthcare modalities that are known to help support the body in a diseased state, particularly when affected by cancer

Dr Hopwood’s website remains up with a changed front page. Over the weekend of the conference, the front pages showed some bizarre conspiracy videos. Today, several days after the event, a new page has appeared telling us that the “Totnes Cancer Health Care Conference is to be CANCELLED.”

This is misleading as it implies that this notice was put up before the event and that the event did not go ahead. Which it most certainly did. It was even live streamed on Hopwood’s conspiracy TV channel, Paradigmshift.tv (Sky Channel 201). The only difference was a change in location (decided before TS told them the conference was illegal), a lack of one speaker, and that money would be refunded. The conference became a free conference – it was not cancelled. And the public were still being invited after TS told them about the legal issues.

According to people who were at the conference, the venue was overflowing with audio having to be streamed to people outside the room.

The notice is misleading in other ways too. Hopwood states,

The reason given is that it is thought that the Totnes Cancer Health Centre and the Conference may be in breach of the 1939 cancer act which states that it is illegal to say, or imply that cancer can be treated by any other means than Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy or Surgery.

This is not true. The Act makes no mention of any exemptions for any form of treatment. You cannot advertise any treatment conventional or alternative, proven or unevidenced, scientific or superstitious.

Hopwood goes on,

It has not been the view of the Centre that we have been offering treatments for Cancer rather that we have been commited to offering specialist support including complementary therapies, advice & counselling for people living with cancer & their supporters.

This statement does not appear to be consistent with what the Centre’s own web site saying,

We have expanded the Arcturus Clinic to offer real alternatives to the conventional approach to cancer health care.

We believe there is another way of understanding, preventing and approaching this disease.

One of the main aims of the CHC is to bring together a complete range of alternative cancer health care treatment information in an accessible format so people can easily use these principles and practices to restore their health.

An initial assessment with one of our directors will establish your individual needs, build a personal programme and refer you to the appropriate practitioners.

To me, the aims looked clear: to provide an alternative to mainstream treatment. And the conference was there to promote these alternatives.

Trading Standards now have a choice. Will they turn a blind eye to the event? Or will they actually demonstrate they have teeth and investigate, prosecuting if necessary?

There is an air of strong defiance from Hopwood and his supporters. On the comments page of Totnes FM, you can see the good people of Totnes claiming that this an issue of free speech and a terrible thing – no doubt with the pharmaceutical companies behind it. No one is stopping anyone talking about alternative cancer cures, nor from choosing them if they wish. This is about advertising a cancer business illegally. But such laws are only meaningful if they are enforced. And as I started this article, Trading Standards have some ground to make up here.

This is not the only such conference. As I also wrote about earlier this month, the notorious Dr Burzynski is coming to the UK to talk about his unevidenced and extremely expensive cancer cures at the National Motorcycle Museum Conference Centre in Birmingham. All involved could be in breach of the law. At least Devon TS have now set an important precedent in saying such events may be illegal.

But TS now need to decide if they wanted to look like toothless fools. This is not a victimless crime. Selling dodgy cancer cures robs people of money, choices and dignity at their most vulnerable moment. It’s plain cruelty. The fact that the sellers may be deluded rather than criminal is no excuse. It’s about time Trading Standards saw this as a priority, perhaps above an under-measure pint or a dodgy warranty.

42 comments for “Quack Totnes Cancer Conference Ends in Farce

  1. March 27, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Although you might not think by just looking at the home page, the website is still up, complete with several pages in clear breach of the Cancer Act (eg http://www.totnescancerhealthcentre.com/a-to-z-therapies/thegerson-therapy/ ).

    With respect to the conference itself, I agree that Simoncini was used as a scapegoat. His theories are no doubt dangerously wrong, but the others are far from sensible.

    The latest list of speakers for the conference (ie without Simoncini) is still here:

    http://www.totnescancerhealthcentre.com/what-we-offer/conferences/

    That is the list I used for the post I published on Friday night which gave a bit of background on each of the speakers: http://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/totnes-cancer-conference-forced-underground-by-trading-standards/

    • Le Canard Noir
      March 27, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks Josephine for all your hard work. Did mean to link and will do!

  2. March 27, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Big thanks to Andy for another fab rundown of the events as they unfolded over the weekend.
    Josephine I also thought your blog post was excelent!
    Alan Henness of the Nightingale Collaboration also has a detailed post about it on his blog.
    There are a group of us who live in the area who have been hard at work on this and it seems a shame that it took an MP to get involved for TS to act but may be a lesson for the future and another arrow to add to our ‘sceptivism’ quiver as it led to wide coverage across the region and even the national press.
    It remains to be seen how this will play out and lets hope that TS are able to follow through with this high profile case.
    I thought the interview on Totnes FM was absolutly fantastic and it shows that even in the happy-clappiest of communities there are people who are willing to speak out about the issues of alt med and the harm they can do.

  3. KS
    March 28, 2012 at 10:04 am

    At least it wasn’t about HIV and AIDS.

  4. March 28, 2012 at 10:49 am

    It didn’t really feel like hard work. Hopwood has kept me on the edge of my seat. Once I’d read about some of the various speakers, I couldn’t help but spread the word, especially when Hopwood behaved as though dropping Simoncini would solve the problem.

    It seems that getting locals involved, especially getting the support of the MP, has achieved results. I’m not sure TS would have done much had it just been a couple of people from outside the area complaining. The academic report linked in the post reflects the sort of experience I’ve had with TS. Very few of my complaints have been acted upon. Most of these were to do with breaches of the Cancer Act and most were ignored.

    Even if TS take no further action on the Conference though, I think forcing it underground and attracting unfavourable media attention has damaged the credibility of Hopwood and the various speakers. The media attention hopefully also raised some awareness of cancer quackery and the Cancer Act.

  5. Neil
    March 30, 2012 at 10:21 am

    So are we trying to say that if this would have been a cancer conference held by the research and Pharmaceutical industry their findings and suggestions would not have been just as bizarre, odd and unexpected as the alternate approach? Imagination, speculation and experimentation are all used to investigate something. Look on the web to see how many have died through drug trials. Makes Simoncini look like a saint.

    • le canard noir
      March 30, 2012 at 10:35 am

      Neil, the pharma companies do not have open days pitching their wares direct to cancer subjects. In the UK, (and most places in the world) that would be illegal and seen as deeply unethical.

      There are academic conferences of course, where academics discuss these things. Academics criticise each other and challenge results that do not meet standards of evidence and reason. That is the difference between science and pseudoscience.

      Yes, in real medicine, there are risks and benefits. The goal of research is to maximise benefits and discover and minimise risks. Alternative medicine assumes all of these things.

      • Neil
        March 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm

        When you look at it anything that is sold for treatment becomes unethical if its not a complete cure. We need to be educated and informed of the free things in our life like exercise, state of body and mind and diet. This is something drug companies will have no say in. In the end it may be that the reactions of drugs in the body are produced through celluar re-programming or brain responce programming to respond to the generation of self healing properties within our own bodies. Could see the end of drug use as we know it.

      • Le Canard Noir
        March 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm

        What nonsense!

        Is pain relief unethical then since it does not provide a ‘complete cure’.

        Since when did doctors not advise their patients to exercise and eat well?

        ‘Cellu[l]ar reprogramming’. Do you just make things up?

  6. april
    April 1, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I am interested to know what qualifications Le Canard Noir and Josephine Jones have in the fields of science, medicine or health care for them to make such arrogant statements of absolute dismissal? I also question the intelligence level of the author of the above, Le Canard Noir, who it seems, struggles to interpret and reflect with accuracy and integrity upon information as it is presented. Eg, Simoncini was not a ‘star’ speaker, he was listed equally along with all the other speakers.. Simoncini does not use baking soda in his treatments and no such reference has been made, he uses bicarbonate of soda which is one of the ingredients in baking soda.. the TCHC is not promoting cancer treatment.

    s far as I understand the information provided, it is pretty clear that the offering made by the TCHC, is information which is supportive of improving health and immunity of ones body, health care, as obviously a healthy body has a far better chance of fighting any health issue than a body which is not being supported with such things as hydration, nutrients provided by a clean chemical free healthy diet, clean air, detoxification etc etc. It is quite apparent to me, that the clinic is not intending to treat cancer, they are intending to support those who wish to better support their own bodies health.

    I attended the conference and I was impressed by what I saw and heard there. I certainly would not have used the word “farce’ to describe it, I would however use the word ‘inspirational”

    Incidentally, whilst doing my own research prompted by the media farce around the cancer conference, I came across this rather interesting piece titled, ‘Frankincense: Could it be a cure for cancer?’, published by the BBC on 9th february 2010,

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8505251.stm

    I wonder, where was the storm about this report? Have the BBC been fined?

    In my opinion, those such as yourselves, Le Canard Noir and Josephine Jones, who are clearly uninformed and without any understanding of healthcare or medicine whilst in possession of an inability to interpret and regurgitate information with accuracy and integrity, along with your own unresolved yet clearly (publicly) expressed demons,, pose a far greater health threat to the public than any heath center whose clear intention is to support the health of humans with accessible information.

    • Peter in Dundee
      April 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Will I do? BSc(hons) and PhD in physiology along with many years research experience. In my considered, educated and experienced process I agree completely with Mr Duck.

      There is never going to be one cure for cancer, because cancer is not one disease. We have cured childhood leukemia to all intents and purposes and cancer survival rates are rising across the board and not thanks to AltMed. You call Mr Duck and Josephine Jones uninformed then write of cancer as one disease. The irony is almost so sweet I may swoon.

      Please continue to be a complete hypocrite. I could do with a laugh.

    • Marc Stephens Is Insane
      April 2, 2012 at 12:33 am

      April wrote:

      “Simoncini does not use baking soda in his treatments and no such reference has been made, he uses bicarbonate of soda which is one of the ingredients in baking soda.”

      April, please educate us all on the difference between baking soda and sodium bicarbonate.

      To help you, Simoncini’s own website has this posted on its FAQ page:

      “Sodium Bicarbonate powder is available in any Drugstore, supermarket or pharmacy.”

  7. april
    April 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Where exactly do you perceive i wrote of cancer as one disease? i see no such reference and hold no such belief.. The word ‘cancer’ was (initialed) in the name of the clinic and in reference to the conference and is used generically in response the above criticism and misrepresentation of the work of the clinic and intentions of the conference. it seems to me that you are criticising your own narrow perception of what is written, rather than what has actually been written.

    there are not, and have never been, any claims of a cure for ‘cancer’.. this again is a misinterpretation and misrepresentation by those such as yourself resulting in media hype and misinformation. as a result, such a debate is irrelevant.

    there is a very big difference between focusing on a condition and focusing on the health of a human being.. this is one of the major differences between allopathic medicine and holistic medicine. you appear to be stuck within the mindset of the former, and so appear to be perceiving the information from within that very limited or blinkered framework.

    From someone with a PhD, i would expect a more mature and intelligent contribution to this discussion.

    • Kelly M Bray
      April 5, 2012 at 4:57 am

      April, look up Tone Troll. See if your picture is on the page.

  8. Badly Shaved Monkey
    April 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    “health issue than a body which is not being supported with such things as hydration, nutrients provided by a clean chemical free healthy diet”

    Have you joined the campaign to eliminate dihydrogen monoxide from the nutrient supply? I agree all chemicals are evil and should be removed from our lives and bodies.

  9. april
    April 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    “…obviously a healthy body has a far better chance of fighting ANY health issue than a body which is not being supported with such things as…”

    I can’t understand how you can possibly interpret the words ‘any health issue’ to mean cancer as a singular disease. I was clearly making a broad statement which is inclusive of all possible health conditions or issues affecting health.

    I wasn’t aware there was a campaign to eliminate DHMO.. Thank you for bringing my attention to it. I avoid processed and chemicalised ‘food’ and eat food which is fresh, organic, home grown or as local as possible. Yes, it’s shocking that such toxic substances are put into processed food, even baby food!

    • Chris
      April 2, 2012 at 2:38 am

      Put a worm in gin and it dies. Put it DHMO and it lives. So if you avoid DHMO you won’t get worms!

      More at http://www.dhmo.org/.

      DHMO = water, I hope you had a good April Fools Day.

    • Adzcliff
      April 3, 2012 at 8:23 am

      Fascinating? How does one avoid ‘chemicalised food’, other than living in – and somehow eating – a vacuum??

    • Astrid
      March 20, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      how I agree with you.

  10. april
    April 1, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Sorry.. I just realised that I thought I was replying to a response from ‘Peter’ in my last post, but have just noticed it was from ‘Badly Shaved Monkey'(great name!) so I’m wondering if the extract at the top of BSM’s post was in response to my question ‘Where exactly do you perceive I wrote of cancer as one disease?’ or if you were saying something else?

  11. Badly Shaved Monkey
    April 2, 2012 at 8:22 am

    April, I still want you to enlarge upon this part of your assertions, “clean chemical free healthy diet”.

    I’d still like to know whether you would support the campaign to eliminate DHMO from our foodchain and bodies, especially for children whose bodies have much longer to reveal ill effects from hazards they are exposed to. Chris seems to find this funny, but you should know that DHMO is responsible for countless human deaths. Here is a shocking statistic for you, DHMO is found in the body of [i]every[/i] cancer patient! Do you think that’s just a coincidence? I don’t.

  12. april
    April 2, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Nice try BSM..

    the rest speaks for itself..

    • Marc Stephens Is Insane
      April 2, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      Hey April,

      I’m still waiting for you to explain the difference between Simoncini’s sodium bicarbonate and common baking soda. You claim they are not the same, and yet Simoncini’s own website FAQ page states:

      “Sodium Bicarbonate powder is available in any Drugstore, supermarket or pharmacy.”

      • april
        April 3, 2012 at 11:53 am

        Somehow this comment went in the wrong box, below, when i just tried posting it.. trying again :)

        Apologies.. My mistake.. I was confusing baking soda with baking powder. Baking soda is another name for bicarbonate of soda. Bicarbonate of soda is an ingredient in baking powder. Pharmaceutical grade bicarbonate of soda can be purchase in pharmacies and is used to treat a variety of conditions.

      • april
        April 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

        NB.. the difference between food grade baking soda/bicarbonate of soda and pharmaceutical grade bicarbonate of soda, is in the purity of the product.

  13. Badly Shaved Monkey
    April 2, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    April, I still want you to enlarge upon this part of your assertions, “clean chemical free healthy diet”.

    • april
      April 3, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Apologies.. My mistake.. I was confusing baking soda with baking powder. Baking soda is another name for bicarbonate of soda. Bicarbonate of soda is an ingredient in baking powder. Pharmaceutical grade bicarbonate of soda can be purchase in pharmacies and is used to treat a variety of conditions.

      • Marc Stephens Is Insane
        April 3, 2012 at 7:23 pm

        April wrote:

        “Pharmaceutical grade bicarbonate of soda can be purchase in pharmacies and is used to treat a variety of conditions.”

        Possibly, but not cancer.

  14. april
    April 3, 2012 at 11:50 am

    BSM.. clean chemical free diet, rather speaks for itself, don’t you think. if you don’t understand what that means, I suggest you do some research.

  15. Badly Shaved Monkey
    April 3, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    April, have you recognised that your “chemical-free” mantra just makes you sound like a numpty?

    Of course we know what you sorta kinda mean. But sorta kinda meaning things is intellectually weak and when your weak idea is explored and found to be wholly misconceived then the honourable thing to do is to revise your opinion. Sadly the whole altie mindset is riddled with the kind of drivel you have linked to.

  16. april
    April 4, 2012 at 8:06 am

    BSM.. Numpty?? You have several times now made it quite clear where the intellectual weakness is! I have made my point. The links I’ve posted support this and explain the terminology I’ve used with well researched easy to understand information. I really can’t be bothered to argue off topic semantics with fools.

    • Badly Shaved Monkey
      April 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      April, you obviously don’t want to back down, so does bicarbonate of soda cure cancer?

      Answer with references, please.

      • april
        April 5, 2012 at 12:46 am

        I don’t know. I have no personal experience of it being used in that way.

      • Badly Shaved Monkey
        April 5, 2012 at 8:18 am

        Is personal experience the correct basis on which to have such a discussion?

  17. Helen
    April 8, 2012 at 11:08 am

    This is a great read, thank you, and well done also to all those who fought against this so called conference.
    The people who make money out of this kind of thing are so cynical and/or deluded.

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