Richard Wilson's blog

richardcameronwilson AT yahoo dot co dot UK

Archive for November 2009

Make a vid for freedom and defy #Trafigura!

with 7 comments

Earlier today we showed up outside Trafigura’s offices to video ourselves reading out the information they have been trying so hard to suppress.

If you couldn’t make the protest, you can still help to drive the point home, by reading out the ‘banned text’ in your own Youtube video at home or work.

The more of us do this, the more clearly we can send out the message that the internet can’t be gagged, and that efforts to do so are doomed to backfire.

Please be as original and creative as you like, but if you need a starting point here’s the basic text that we’ll be using:

I am [name] and I’m using my freedom under the 1688 Bill of Rights to read the following quote from Parliament, in defiance of Trafigura:

“The recent example of the release of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people and the hospitalisation of thousands underlines the risks involved in the movement and management of waste.”

The next step is then to upload the video to Youtube (or Vimeo or Yfrog), with the word “Trafigura” somewhere in the description text, and tell as many people as possible. If you’re on Twitter, please do spread the word by Tweeting the link to your vid with the #Trafigura hashtag.

We’ll be embedding and linking to every video we find, and eventually editing them all together as part of a top-secret new web 2.0 project, so please do let us know via this page once your work is published!

Here’s Kate defying #Trafigura!

…and here’s Chris

Here’s Simon


Here’s Sly…

Here’s Reggie

…and here’s Lianne

Here’s Alex defying #Trafigura!

Here’s Jimbo Gunn defying #Trafigura to the tune of “Ode to Joy”

Here’s Derek defying #Trafigura

Here’s Dom defying #Trafigura

Here’s Lauren’s cat defying #Trafigura

Here’s Peregrine defying #Trafigura

Here’s Joel Sams defying #Trafigura with gravitas!

Here’s a robot space alien defying #Trafigura

Here’s one I made earlier


Here’s Paul defying #Trafigura

Written by Richard Wilson

November 25, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Tweet if you support us! Online flashmob – 1pm, Thursday 26th November

with 6 comments

*UPDATE* – Make a vid for freedom! We’re defying #Trafigura, and you can too!

Unable to join the #Trafigura flashmob in person this Thursday? Still want to help? Well now you can…

We will be using our freedom under the 1688 Bill of Rights to stand outside Trafigura’s office and quote from a Parliamentary debate which highlighted an allegation that the company has been very keen to suppress:

Newsnight” is being threatened by the lawyers for Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, if it repeats an allegation against Carter-Ruck that deaths were caused by the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast, even though in 2007 Hansard reported the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations laid by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before Parliament, and a memorandum of explanation to those regulations stated:

“The recent example of the release of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people and the hospitalisation of thousands underlines the risks involved in the movement and management of waste.”

How can it be that that can be in Hansard, yet there are still threats of legal action against “Newsnight” if it reports the very same wording that is used in there?

From 1pm onwards on Thursday 26th November, please show your support for the campaign by Tweeting the following, and encouraging others to do the same:

Beat the gag! “toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people” #Trafigura http://bit.ly/4DvaNV

OR

I’m tweeting banned text: “toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people” #Trafigura http://tr.im/FBZi

Click here to help us defy Trafigura on Youtube!

Click here for more information about the campaign.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 23, 2009 at 10:18 pm

*Flipcam Flashmob!* Multimedia protest @ #Trafigura’s London office, 1pm Thurs Nov 26th

with 4 comments

*UPDATE* Sign up for the event on Facebook here – and if you can’t make the protest, you can make a vid for freedom here, or support us on Twitter.

We’re going to ‘flashmob’ Trafigura ( 2 Portman Street, London W1H 6DU ) at 1pm on Thursday November 26th. The main aim is to highlight the fact that Trafigura/Carter Ruck are, even now, still suing the BBC for libel - (over this report) and thus continuing to cast a chill over the UK media.

The key feature of the protest will be an act of defiance against Trafigura’s attempt to stop the reporting of the fact that their toxic waste is alleged to have caused a number of deaths (ie. not just ‘flu-like symptoms’).

The plan is to quote verbatim from Hansard, as (despite some uncertainty recently) we know that we have an absolute legal right to quote from Parliamentary proceedings.

According to Evan Harris MP (quoted here in a Parliamentary debate, hence we can quote him):

“Newsnight” is being threatened by the lawyers for Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, if it repeats an allegation against Carter-Ruck that deaths were caused by the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast, even though in 2007 Hansard reported the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations laid by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before Parliament, and a memorandum of explanation to those regulations stated:

“The recent example of the release of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people and the hospitalisation of thousands underlines the risks involved in the movement and management of waste.”

How can it be that that can be in Hansard, yet there are still threats of legal action against “Newsnight” if it reports the very same wording that is used in there?

So the plan is to turn up outside their offices with as many people (and cameraphones, mini-video cams, etc.) as possible, and recite this text – either all of the above, or just the two lines Harris is quoting from the ‘memorandum’.

The highlight will be Sly and Reggie, with their “Suburban Pirate” mobile (a lovely old Morris pickup), which has a public address system they will employ to a similar purpose, together with the rather good song they’ve recorded specifically on this subject.

There’s a rumour that (subject to local byelaws) we’ll also be drinking a toast to freedom outside Trafigura’s office, with some banana bread beer…

Written by Richard Wilson

November 19, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Democracy

Tagged with ,

Standby for more #Trafigura fun and frolics

leave a comment »

We’re still finalising the details, but on Thursday evening I’ll be unveiling the next step in the ongoing campaign to persuade Trafigura to end their attacks on freedom of speech in the UK. It will involve music, and talking, and cameras, and a number of TBC peaceful, legal activities!

If you’d like to get involved, please do contact me via richardcameronwilson AT yahoo dot co dot uk

Written by Richard Wilson

November 17, 2009 at 9:51 pm

BBC Newsnight are still being sued for libel by Trafigura and Carter-Ruck

leave a comment »

From The Guardian

Carter Ruck’s support today for some of the changes put forward in the report came amid continuing criticism of firms that launch expensive libel claims against journalists and other publishers, often using conditional fee agreements which result in higher costs for defendants.

“If we don’t get reforms, what is there to stop a law firm like Carter Ruck bombarding journalists and suppressing information that is in the public interest for three years?” said Meirion Jones, producer at BBC’s Newsnight, which is currently being sued over its reporting of oil trading firm Trafigura.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 17, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Time to cut off state handouts to the Quilliam Foundation?

with one comment

Until the Quilliam Foundation made the very ill-advised decision to threaten Craig Murray with legal action, I had assumed that they were a vaguely OK sort of conflict-resolutey-type charity. Now I’ve learned that they’re not actually a charity but a limited company, who nonetheless receive huge amounts of state funding, and that they’ve chosen to pour that money into Britain’s notorious and abusive libel system.

More background on Quilliam’s “toxic take on liberty” in this enlightening article by Douglas Murray:

The nature of QF and its funding arrangements ought to be a source of concern to all British taxpayers, no matter what their political or religious opinions, and finally be brought out in the open. I know very well how these people work because I used to employ some of them. Around the time Ed Husain came to public notice, I recruited him to work with me (through Civitas, the organisation that originally hosted the Centre for Social Cohesion). He liked my views and I had great hopes for him to become a source for real reform. This gave him the time and financial freedom to set up QF. But the increasing oddness of his opinions (particularly relating to my own freedom of speech) meant that eventually we parted ways. What is scandalous is that QF – set up to counter extremists such as their former colleagues in Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) – has done nothing substantial to challenge HT in the UK or radicalisation on UK campuses, the things it was actually set up for.

So what are we getting for our money? Husain said that “It would be morally wrong of a taxpayer-funded programme designed to prevent terrorism if it was not designed to gather intelligence in order to stop that terrorism from happening.” It is striking that someone who has received almost £1m directly from the Contest agenda and Prevent strategy is under the impression that Prevent is about spying. This is certainly not what Prevent is about.

Husain also seems to be under the impression that if a Muslim seems “suspicious” to anyone, the police should be called straight away. In fact it is social workers, youth-offending teams and other such bodies who are supposed to be the focal point of any such concern. Unless a crime has been committed or is about to be committed there is no reason why any innocent person should be reported to the police. Husain, in particular, ought to know the difference between a police state – especially since his co-director was until recently in such a state’s prisons – and a developed liberal democracy.

This anti-extremism organisation seems entirely unaware of the tenets of the society it is paid to extol. Anyone who has any knowledge of how counter-terrorism was practised in Northern Ireland or elsewhere knows that the bar for monitoring people (let alone, as the Guardian has reported, the collection of information on innocent peoples’ personal lives) has to remain exceedingly high for society to retain any semblance of freedom.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 13, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

Tagged with

“Skeptical Voter” launches today…

with 2 comments

From Skeptical Voter

NB – I should say that pretty much all the really difficult aspects of this project, including the writing of the press release below, were sorted out by the outstanding duo Craig Lucas and James O’ Malley!

Politicians to be asked for evidence of their commitment to evidence

New Skeptical Voter project hopes to hold MPs and candidates views on evidence-based policy to account

Author and campaigner Richard Wilson today launched a new campaign to hold to account the views of MPs and candidates standing at the next General Election with regard to ‘evidence-based policy’. ‘Skeptical Voter’ is an apolitical grassroots project by the ‘skeptic’ community – those who have a scientific worldview who believe that evidence should be at the centre of all public policy making. The Skeptical Voter website intends to identify which parliamentary candidates embrace the use of evidence as a means to inform their decisions and which prefer to obfuscate, ignore or suppress the evidence for political convenience.

Today sees the launch of phase one of their plan – Richard is asking for contributions to a collaborative ‘wiki’ on the website and for suggestions for questions to ask to MPs – the best of which will be put into a survey that will be sent to all 2010 General Election candidates.

Speaking about the project, Richard said, “It’s based on two principles and a hypothesis: The first principle is that everyone has a right to know where their MP stands on things like the role of scientific advisors, spending NHS cash on so-called ‘alternative’ treatments like homeopathy and the role of the libel laws in scientific discussion. The second principle is that MPs who stand on the wrong side of these issues ought to be held to account. Our hypothesis is that there are enough of us out there to make a splash if we get organised.”

Those wishing to get involved, or find out more information can go to the Skeptical Voter website at http://www.skeptical-voter.org

Written by Richard Wilson

November 13, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

Tagged with

Ex-Director of Public Prosecutions brands UK libel law an international disgrace

with 3 comments

Cross-posted from Amnesty blogs

I’m just back from the launch of a gobsmacking new report by Index and English PEN, highlighting the abuse of the UK libel system by rich individuals and corporations around the world bent on suppressing criticism of their activities.

UK libel law denies most defendants a fair trial because a) The system works on the presumption of guilt, rather than innocence and b) Almost nobody can afford adequate legal representation to defend their case – legal costs in the UK are 140 times the European average. A trial of just one week can easily top a million pounds in fees alone.

On top of this, the UK judiciary effectively asserts “universal jurisdiction” for libel cases (at the same time as genocide suspects on UK territory go undisturbed). Anything negative written about a rich person on a website anywhere in the world can end up being the subject of a defamation case in a UK court. Things have got so bad that US states have begun passing laws preventing the enforcement of UK libel rulings within their jurisdictions, on the basis that our law violates the basic human rights protections outlined in the US constitution.

Last year, the UN human rights committee warned that UK libel law “served to discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work”, and highlighted the threat posed to freedom of speech worldwide by the UK’s willingess to indulge so-called “libel tourists”.

Speaking at today’s event, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, branded UK libel law a national “disgrace” – and its effect on other countries a “double disgrace”. Macdonald argues that the need for reform is not only an issue of justice, but also of national pride.

To find out more, and to sign up for this urgent and timely campaign, visit www.libelreform.org.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 10, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Are your taxes subsidising the libel tourism industry?

leave a comment »

Yesterday I wrote about a discussion in Parliament on the use of “super-injunctions” to gag the media. It turns out that no-one anywhere is keeping track of how many of these secret gags are being issued, or whether the judges involved are scrutinising the cases properly.

But another intriguing issue that came out of the same meeting relates to the  problem of “libel tourism”. Notoriously, under current UK law it’s now possible for anyone, anywhere in the world, who thinks they’ve been libelled on some website or another, to come to London and attempt to bankrupt the person responsible. Thus we have – for example – an Icelandic academic losing his home after being sued by a fellow-Icelander over things written on the University of Iceland website.

“Libel tourists” come here because it’s easy to win, even when you don’t have a case. The UK court system denies libel defendants a fair trial by effectively treating them as ‘guilty until proven innocent’, and because the legal costs of defending one’s self are up to 140 times higher than in other countries. This means that most ordinary people cannot afford adequate legal representation.

Those who really benefit from this system are, of course, law firms such as Carter Ruck, who help foreign libel tourists bring their exorbitant claims. What I wasn’t aware of until this week is that the UK taxpayer may also be helping to foot the bill. While the parties to the case pay lawyers’ fees, it was claimed during Tuesday’s meeting that the costs of actually running the court, paying the judges wages etc. comes out of the  public purse. If this is true, then not only are the likes of Carter Ruck making a fortune from these questionable foreign law suits – but we are indirectly subsidising the whole process through our taxes….

Written by Richard Wilson

November 7, 2009 at 11:45 am

Secret injunctions: Ruck knows how many of them are out there

with 3 comments

rummy

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”- Donald Rumsfeld, 12 Feb 2002

On Tuesday I joined a meeting of the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights which focussed on “super-injunctions”. This is the name given to a legal order which not only bans a particular issue from being covered in the press, but also bans any reference to the ban.

It was one of these orders that had, notoriously, been used by controversial law-firm Carter Ruck, on behalf of oil-trader Trafigura, to suppress coverage of the now-famous “Minton report”, until the ban was circumvented by the online media. It was this that stirred the interest of the JCHR.

The meeting included journalists, editors, MPs, Lords and lawyers, including both the Guardian’s legal chief and two senior partners from Carter Ruck. The discussion was so wide-ranging that it would take more than one blog post to do it justice, but there were a couple of details that really stood out.

The first is that no-one knows how many secret super-injunctions are currently in force. While the UK state seems bent on meticulously recording every detail of its citizens’ phone, email and web-browsing habits, it is positively lackadaisical about tracking its own media gagging orders. Although each individual super-injunction is (we have to hope) being kept on file somewhere by the  judiciary, no-one, anywhere, is collating information  about the overall picture.

When asked about this issue in Parliament, the government’s response was simply that:

“The information requested is not available. The High Court collects figures on applications, however injunctions are not separately identifiable, and there are currently no plans to amend databases to do so.”

So there’s no way of knowing, on a global scale, how many of these gagging orders are being handed out, or for what sorts of purposes, or on whose behalf. It’s thus difficult to see how anyone could independently verify that the law is actually being applied fairly and proportionately.  What we effectively have is a secret state whose bans on media coverage are almost entirely beyond public scrutiny.

Individual newspapers will obviously know how many injunctions they’ve each received (the Guardian has reportedly had 12 this year alone), but as they’re forbidden from discussing the details, it will be impossible for newspaper editors to build up a global picture by talking to each other.

This lack of scrutiny seemed to be a real concern for members of the Committee, and there was much discussion about how they could determine the size of the problem and address it. One point I tried to make was that there is at least one group of people who could in theory tell us quite a lot about the number of super-injunctions being issued – the law firms like Carter Ruck who are involved in securing them.

At the moment we seem to  have a situation where the only people who have any idea of about the numbers,  are the same people who are profiting so handsomely from the UK libel/censorship system.

The second thing that stood out for me in the meeting was a discussion around “libel tourism”. It seems that our taxes may be helping to subsidise the activities of Carter Ruck, Shillings and their ilk, in this area. But more on that next time…

Written by Richard Wilson

November 6, 2009 at 12:24 am

Trafigura coverage still curtailed by libel abuse. UK media unable to report freely on deaths allegedly caused by dumping of Trafigura’s toxic waste

with 2 comments

gag

*Update* See also: Doc Richard – Trafigura suppresses scientific lecture – allegedly

*Update 2* Rebellion spreads – Caroline Lucas MEP mentions the unmentionable.

There’s renewed coverage today of the ongoing legal battles following the notorious Ivory Coast toxic waste incident, in which the oil trader Trafigura has been implicated.

The Guardian (UK), Times (UK) and New York Times (US) all report that the £30 million compensation payment by Trafigura to victims of the disaster is in danger of being misappropriated after an Ivorian court ordered that the funds be frozen.

But note also the contrast in how the UK and US media have reported the background to the story. Here’s how the New York Times covers it:

The waste was shipped by Trafigura, an international commodities trading giant. About 108,000 people sought treatment for nausea, headaches, vomiting and abdominal pains, and at least 15 died. All had apparently been poisoned by the toxic brew of gasoline and caustic soda, refining byproducts dumped by Trafigura’s contractor.

Here’s the Guardian:

Hundreds of tonnes of sulphur-contaminated toxic oil waste were cheaply dumped on landfills and in ditches around Abidjan in 2006. The cargo ship had been chartered by Trafigura. In the weeks after, the fumes caused thousands of sick people to besiege local hospitals.

…and here’s the Times:

A cargo ship chartered by Trafigura dumped hundreds of tonnes of sulphur-contaminated toxic oil waste around Abidjan in 2006. In the following weeks the fumes caused thousands of people to need hospital treatment.

The deaths of “up to 17″ Ivorians has been widely reported elsewhere. In previous articles, both the Times and the Guardian have referred to a UN report citing “official estimates” of 15 dead. So it seems odd that this seemingly crucial detail should now be omitted.

The New York Times is of course free to say what it likes because freedom of speech is protected under the US constitution, and New York State has a law which specifically prohibits the enforcement of UK libel judgements in NY, due to human rights concerns.

Fortunately in the UK we do still have (despite some recent confusion) an absolute right to report the proceedings of Parliament, so I can draw your attention to this recent statement from Evan Harris MP:

My understanding is that “Newsnight” is being threatened by the lawyers for Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, if it repeats an allegation… that deaths were caused by the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast, even though in 2007 Hansard reported the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations laid by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before Parliament, and a memorandum of explanation to those regulations stated:

“The recent example of the release of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people and the hospitalisation of thousands underlines the risks involved in the movement and management of waste.”

How can it be that that can be in Hansard, yet there are still threats of legal action against “Newsnight” if it reports the very same wording that is used in there? That cannot be right.

What Dr. Harris could also have mentioned is that, astoundingly, alongside these renewed threats, Trafigura’s libel action over this damning May 2009 news report, appears still to be ongoing.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 5, 2009 at 10:52 am

Battling the Twitterphobic backlash…

with 4 comments

Given the recent success of Twitter and Facebook in mobilising those outraged by the distasteful comments of Jan Moir, it was probably inevitable that other mainstream columnists would start to get worried.  Until recently, newspaper pundits have been free to air their opinions more or less unchallenged, loudly, regularly, and with scant regard for accuracy – beyond the requirement never to say anything bad about a (living) rich person or an advertiser.

Now that the internet has made it slightly easier for the public to answer back, many columnists seem jittery. The last few days have seen a flurry of news articles likening Twitter users to a ‘mob’, equating the loud criticism of Jan Moir with ‘censorship’, and warning us that online activism threatens  freedom of speech.

Writing in today’s Observer, Nick Cohen announces that “the same people who want freedom of speech for Parliament want to silence Jan Moir” (apparently he did a worldwide survey of every single person involved in the Trafigura protest, and that’s what they all said) and that “when Twitter heaved with protests against Jan Moir, apparent liberals matched conservatives and forgot every liberal principle they knew”.

The irony is that websites like Twitter are actually giving a public voice to thousands of people who never had much of a say before, thereby greatly increasing the value of freedom of speech in this country (since when does sending an angry letter make you a member of a ‘mob’?). The double-irony is that Nick Cohen, in denouncing Twitterers for the way that they have used this new-found public voice, seems to be acting in the same way as those who condemned Jan Moir for the way she aired hers. If he is right (which I don’t think he is) that the strong criticism of Jan Moir’s comments was an attempt at ‘censorship’, then it’s difficult to see how his strong criticism of the Twittersphere wouldn’t fall into the same category.

One liberal principle that Cohen himself appears to have forgotten is the value of condemning bigotry, whatever its source:

opinion ought, in every instance, to determine its verdict by the circumstances of the individual case; condemning every one, on whichever side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candor, or malignity, bigotry or intolerance of feeling manifest themselves

- John Stuart Mill, Chapter Two, On Liberty- click here to read the full context

To condemn a bigoted opinion, is not, in and of itself, to demand that the bigot be silenced or censored – we can merely be registering our disapproval of one particular view, and for many who complained about Jan Moir’s comments, this seems to have been the main point. In the words of Ian Hopkinson earlier today: “I resent the implication I want to shut #janmoir up – I just wanted to shout at her a bit”.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Guardian editor accuses Carter-Ruck of “prolonged campaign of legal harassment”

with 2 comments

From www.parliament.uk

Culture Media and Sports Committee: Further written evidence from Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian

…Along with others of the European media and the BBC, we have recently been subject to what we regard as a prolonged campaign of legal harassment by Carter-Ruck on behalf of London-based oil traders, Trafigura.

Trafigura arranged the illegal dumping of 500 tons of highly toxic oil waste in the West African country of Cote d’Ivoire. Thousands of the population of Abidjan, the capital, subsequently became ill and, after a bitterly fought law suit, Trafigura has now been forced to pay a degree of compensation to the victims.

Carter-Ruck, like such other firms as Schillings, are trying to carve out for themselves a slice of the lucrative market known as ‘reputation management’. This is not about the perfectly proper job of helping people or organisations gain legal redress when they have been mistreated by the press.

It is a pitch to work with PR firms to pressurize and intimidate journalists in advance on behalf of big business. It exploits the oppressive nature and the frightening expense of British libel laws…

After the toxic waste dumping in 2006, Trafigura embarked on what was essentially a cover story. They used Carter-Ruck and PR specialists Bell Pottinger, working in concert to enforce their version on the media.

The cover story was that Trafigura used a tanker for normal ‘floating storage’ of gasoline. They had then, they claimed, discharged the routine tank-washing ‘slops’, which were harmless, to a disposal company, and had no responsibility whatever for the subsequent disaster.

In fact, Trafigura had deliberately used a primitive chemical process to make cheap contaminated gasoline more saleable, and knew the resultant toxic waste was impossible to dispose of legally in Europe.

The Guardian experienced an intimidatory approach repeatedly in the Trafigura case. Other journalists at BBC Newsnight, the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK and the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, told us of identical threats. The BBC eventually received a libel writ. NRK were the subject of a formal complaint – eventually rejected – to the Norwegian press ethics body.

A history of Carter-Ruck’s behaviour in respect of the Guardian is appended [APPENDIX 2]

On 27 June 2008, Bell Pottinger sent a threatening message to the Guardian. They had previously sent similar threats and complaints to AP, whose agency dispatch had been published on-line by the Guardian. The message ended:

“Please note that in view of the gravity of these matters and of the allegations which have been published, I am copying Trafigura’s solicitors, Carter-Ruck, into this email.”

The letter demanded changes to the Guardian’s website to include this information:

“The Probo Koala … left Amsterdam with the full knowledge and clear approval of the Dutch authorities.” It also stated that the disposal company in Amsterdam had asked for extra fees “without any credible justification” and that “ship’s slops are commonly produced within the oil industry. To label Trafigura’s slops as ‘toxic waste’ in no way accurately reflects their true composition.”

On 16 September 2008, Trafigura posted a statement on their website claiming:

“Trafigura is in no way responsible for the sickness suffered by people in Abidjan … The discharge of slops from cargo vessels is a routine procedure that is undertaken all over the world.”

The company knew this was a misleading and false statement.

On 22 September 2008, the Guardian’s East Africa correspondent, Xan Rice, asked Trafigura some questions, in view of the then impending trial of local Ivoirian waste contractors.

Trafigura refused to answer, a refusal coupled with another pointed referral to libel solicitors. Bell Pottinger wrote: “I am copying this email to Carter-Ruck”.

Xan Rice’s article was not published by the Guardian.

The Ivoirian trial convicted local individuals for toxic dumping, Trafigura subsequently abandoned some of their lines of defence in the English litigation they originally claimed they had no duty of care, and could not have foreseen what the local dumpers might do. Trafigura now agreed instead, to pay anyone who could prove the toxic waste had made them ill. They continued to deny publicly that such a thing was possible.

Xan Rice again asked some factual questions. On 14 November 2008, Bell Pottinger responded “Please note that I am copying this correspondence to Carter-Ruck and to the Guardian’s legal department”. They added: “Any suggestion, even implicit, that Trafigura … should have stood trial in Ivory Coast would be completely unfounded and libellous … We insist that you refer in detail to the contents of the attached summary”.

They claimed to be sueing for libel the senior partner of Leigh Day who was bringing the English lawsuit. They added that further Leigh Day statements “are the subject of a complaint in Malicious Falsehood”[sic]. In fact, the libel proceedings against Martyn Day had been stayed, and no malicious falsehood proceedings had been – or were ever – issued.

A closely-typed six-page statement was attached. In it the company claimed to have “independent expert evidence” of the non-toxicity of the waste, but refused to disclose it. Trafigura repeated the false claim that the waste was merely “a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda”.

No Guardian article, once again, was published.

On 3 December 2008, less than 3 weeks later, Trafigura formally admitted to the High Court the true composition of the waste in its document “Likely chemical composition of the slops”, [detailed above].

On 5 December 2008, Trafigura formally admitted their waste came from Merox-style chemical processing attempts, and not from routine tank-rinsing.

On 29 April 2009, Carter-Ruck wrote to a Dutch paper: “Trafigura has been obliged to engage my firm to bring complaints against Volkskrant … It is indeed the case that we have on Trafigura’s behalf, written to a number of other media outlets around the world in respect of their coverage of this matter”. Bell Pottinger also confirmed contact with journalists who published or broadcast stories that did not accurately reflect Trafigura’s position, but added: “We completely disagree with your description of Trafigura’s involvement in an ‘aggressive media campaign’.”

On 13 May 2009, Bell Pottinger, in concert with Carter-Ruck, issued a statement to the BBC repeating two assertions known to be false.

They said the Leigh Day statement “is currently the subject of a malicious falsehood complaint made by Trafigura”. They also claimed once more: “The Probo Koala’s slops were a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda”.

On 13 May 2009, Carter-Ruck wrote to the Guardian demanding the paper not “publish any reference” to witness-nobbling allegations, although they know these had already been the subject of a public statement by solicitor Martyn Day; the subject of a separate disclosure published by the legal correspondent of the Times; and the subject of a publicly-available court injunction banning further witness contact by Trafigura until trial. Carter-Ruck added that “so much as a reference to these allegations” would be “wholly improper”.

On 15 May 2009, Carter-Ruck issued a press release under its own letterhead, not Trafigura’s, claiming that High Court libel proceedings had been issued against the BBC for “wildly inaccurate and libellous”, “one-sided”, “misleading”, “sensationalist and inaccurate” publications.

On 22 May 2009, Carter Ruck told the Guardian: “It is untrue that the slops caused or could have caused the numerous deaths and serious injuries … Trafigura cannot be expected to tolerate unbalanced and inaccurate reporting of this nature. Accordingly, Trafigura requires the Guardian to … remove these articles from its website forthwith; and … publish a statement by Trafigura”.

The Guardian declined to remove its articles, but agreed to publish the statement. This said: “The fact is that according to independent analyses that Trafigura has seen of the chemical composition of the slops, it is simply not possible that this material could have led to the deaths and widespread injuries alleged. Similarly, it is not possible that hydrogen sulphide was released from the slops as alleged by the Guardian. Trafigtura will present these independent analyses in the High Court in Aututmn 2009.”

On 17 September 2009, the Guardian published documents on its front page detailing a “massive cover-up” by Trafigura.

On 29 September 2009, Trafigura announced it would pay £30m to the victims, rather than face a High Court trial.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 1, 2009 at 12:18 am