The controversial research paper that sparked an international scare over MMR vaccine was yesterday withdrawn by The Lancet medical journal, 12 years after it was published.

The Lancet said it had taken the decision following last week's preliminary verdict by a disciplinary panel of the General Medical Council which found the lead author, Andrew Wakefield, and two of his co-authors had acted "dishonestly" and "irresponsibly" in carrying out their research.

The editors of the journal said: "It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect... In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were 'consecutively referred' and that investigations were 'approved' by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record."

The decision brings to a close one of the unhappiest chapters in medical research.

The 1998 paper, based on 12 children, some of whom had bowel disorders and autism which had developed following vaccination with MMR, was criticised from the start. But it triggered a sharp fall in vaccination rates and years of speculation about the safety of MMR vaccine, despite the absence of confirmatory evidence.

The Lancet announced a partial retraction of the paper in 2004 after it emerged that Dr Wakefield had received payments for his research from the Legal Aid board which he had not declared.

The journal said at the time that this was a "fatal conflict of interest" but added: "We are entirely satisfied that the investigations performed on the children... had been subjected to appropriate and rigorous ethical scrutiny."

In its judgement last week, the GMC panel said that the children were subjected to invasive investigations, which were not in their clinical interests and which lacked Ethics Committee approval for research.

Dr Wakefield and Professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch face being struck off the medical register if they are found guilty of serious professional misconduct at a later date.