BAT faces litigation Armageddon after document shredding leads to collapse of Australian cancer case

Thursday 11 April 2002

ASH news release:  11th April 2002 immediate


A court in Australia has thrown out BAT’s entire defence in a lung cancer case after the lawyers acting for the victim, showed that BAT had sabotaged the case by destroying documents as recently as 1998.   The 51-year old lung cancer sufferer, Mrs Rolah Ann McCabe, was awarded damages of A$700,000 in the Melbourne court on 11th April as compensation and for pain and suffering.  The plaintiffs had decided not to press for punitive (‘exemplary’) damages because that would have prolonged the case and Mrs McCabe is very ill indeed.

However, the judgement opens up a nightmare scenario for British American Tobacco as the same documents could be relevant to many different cases in Australia and invite other cancer victims to take action.  If the document destruction went beyond Australia, similar judgements could be reached elsewhere.  Finally, lawyers and executives that sanctioned document destruction may face criminal or contempt charges.

Clive Bates, Director of the anti-tobacco campaigning group ASH, said:

This will unleash a firestorm of legal action that could engulf BAT in Australia and may spread beyond depending on how wide and deep the document destruction goes.

Once it is clear that BAT cannot defend itself then there are potentially thousands of its customers waiting to come forward to seek damages for cancer, emphysema and heart disease.

It’s even worse than Enron…  at least Enron and its accountants were only concealing irregular financial transactions.  BAT has destroyed documents that describe business as usual in the tobacco industry, and that involves people dying in their millions.

This opens the prospect of personal action against those that sanctioned the document destruction – we will be at the AGM next week asking whether further documents have been destroyed and how shareholders are now exposed.

BAT has said it will appeal – however it faces serious difficulties as the judgement is very specific and well argued it is hard to see how an appeal judge would find anything different.


Notes and links:

[1] Summary and implications (41 pages)

[2] Judgement in full (133 pages)

[3] Landmark victory for Australian smoker (BBC) pre-trial background…


Contact: Clive Bates 020 7739 5902 (w) 077 6879 1237 (m) ISDN available