A Mucky Business

An unknown number of people “may have died” from oil slops dumped around Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, in August 2006, according to a leader in last Thursday’s Guardian.

Really?  How does that square with an admission by the claimants’ lawyers a couple of days later that “the slops could at worst have caused a range of short-term low-level flu-like symptoms and anxiety”?

The London-based law firm Leigh Day represents 30,000 claimants who sued Trafigura, a leading oil trader, over the slops. As part of a settlement announced over the weekend, the company has agreed to pay each claimant around £950 without any acceptance of liability. I explained the background to the case here nearly a year ago.

Surely the Guardian would have known by last week that, in the joint statement announcing the settlement, Leigh Day would accept that their experts had been “unable to identify a link between exposure to the chemicals released from the slops and deaths, miscarriages, still births, birth defects, loss of visual acuity or other serious and chronic injuries” attributed to the waste.

Journalists who have written about the story over the past few days would surely also have known that Leigh Day were about to withdraw allegations that the slops had caused “a number of deaths and miscarriages” and that the law firm would admit that “many claims” had been made for symptoms “which are unconnected with any exposure to the slops”.

But I very much doubt if this will be the flavour of Monday’s coverage. Instead, we can expect reports of Greenpeace calling on Trafigura to be prosecuted for manslaughter

On what evidence?

Presumably it will be as shaky as the photograph of a woman with a scarred face that appears on this BBC Newsnight website.

The implication is that she suffered the scarring as a result of exposure to hazardous waste.

Dermatologists who have seen the photograph say this is lupus erythematosus , an auto-immune condition that could not have been caused in this way.

I like and admire Martyn Day, the claimants’ lawyer in this case. No doubt he — and the journalists I have implicitly criticised in this piece — will regard me as naive and credulous for reporting the “other side” of this case.

I will leave readers to decide which journalists are being more one-sided.

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