BBC in £25k payout over Trafigura oil spill libel

The BBC has admitted libelling oil company Trafigura on Newsnight and paid it £25,000 as well as making an apology in open court.

Adam Tudor, from Trafigura lawyers Carter Ruck, today told Mr Justice Eady at the High Court in London that the BBC had withdrawn its claims that deaths and illnesses had been caused by Trafigura’s involvement in the dumping of toxic waste.

On 13 May this year Newsnightbroadcast a report about the discharging in August 2006 by Trafigura of gasoline waste in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast which was subsequently dumped by a local company. The reports stated that Trafigura’s actions had caused deaths, miscarriages, serious injuries and sickness with long-term chronic effects.

Tudor said: “Following Trafigura’s complaint over Newsnight’s story, the BBC carried out a detailed further review of the available evidence and of Trafigura’s detailed response in its reply in these proceedings. The BBC accepts the conclusions reached by the experts in the personal injury action and reflected in the Reply.

“The BBC therefore acknowledges that the evidence does not establish that Trafigura’s ‘slops’ caused any deaths, miscarriages or serious or long-term injuries.

“Accordingly, the BBC has withdrawn those allegations and has agreed to broadcast an appropriate apology on Newsnight, to join in the making of this statement in open court, and to publish the statement on its website.”

Lawyers acting for Trafigura obtained a so-called super-injunction in September which caused a political storm when The Guardian said it stopped it reporting a Parliamentary question which made reference to the Minton Report about the Ivory Coast toxic waste affair.

Index on Censorship and English PEN today claimed that the high financial risk of defending this case were a “major factor” in the BBC’s decision to settle.

According to media lawyer Mark Stephens, the legal costs from losing this case at trial would have been in excess of £3 million.

Index on Censorship chief executive John Kampfner said: “Sadly, the BBC has once again buckled in the face of authority or wealthy corporate interests. It has cut a secret deal. This is a black day for British journalism and once more strengthens our resolve to reform our unjust libel laws.”

Eric de Turckheim, founder and director of Trafigura, said today in a statement: “Trafigura has always maintained that the slops cannot have caused the deaths and serious injuries alleged by the BBC. We informed Newsnight of the detailed evidence before the programme was aired, yet they chose to proceed with their highly-damaging and false assertions. We are pleased the BBC has now acknowledged that it was wrong.

“Trafigura accepts that the Probo Koala incident is a matter of public interest. However, there is no public interest in the BBC reporting damaging untruths. Such is the international reach and high-regard of the BBC, we were left with little choice but to bring these proceedings – the only libel claim we have brought anywhere in the world against any media outlet.

“With the benefit of the facts, Mr Justice MacDuff advised the media earlier this year to take note of the evidence and approach their reporting of these matters more responsibly. We hope that, in future, they do.”

The BBC said in a statement: “The BBC has played a leading role in bringing to the public’s attention the actions of Trafigura in the illegal dumping of 500 tons of hazardous waste.

“The dumping caused a public health emergency with tens of thousands of people seeking treatment.”

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