the Eternit trial report, Torino (Italy)
Campaigners have welcomed the jailing for 16 years of two former owners of one of the world’s biggest asbestos firms.
But, at the end of a groundbreaking seven-year investigation and prosecution in Italy, there is outrage that British victims have never seen similar justice here.
Belgian baron Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, 90, and Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, 64, were found guilty on Monday of failing to install safety measures to protect workers and residents at four Italian factories.
They were major shareholders in Eternit, which prosecutors blamed for the deaths of over 2,000 people through contamination with asbestos dust.
Asbestos kills 5,000 people in Britain every year but the epidemic is not expected to peak until 2020 and could claim 200,000 lives.
The Mirror’s Asbestos Timebomb campaign is calling for better protection and faster compensation for asbestos victims.
Tony Whitston, of the UK’s Asbestos Victims Support Group, said: “At last, company executives who put profit before lives have been held accountable and face jail sentences for the deaths of thousands of asbestos victims.
“For the thousands of asbestos victims in the UK there is no justice.
"Despite having the highest incidence of asbestos cancer mesothelioma worldwide, not one executive of our large asbestos producing companies have faced criminal charges for thousands of asbestos deaths in the UK.
“They have, literally, got away with murder.”Jailed: Billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny
Kevin Johnson of John Pickering solicitors welcomed the verdict but said: “Asbestos manufacturers here have not been held to account and the insurance industry has brought a stream of test cases to try to avoid their responsibilities and deny compensation.”
Adrian Budgen of law firm Irwin Mitchell said: “We hope that this groundbreaking trial will help set a much needed precedent for positive change here in the UK.”
Around 1,500 Eternit victims and their relatives watched the verdict live on big screens in the Italian city of Turin.
De Cartier and Schmidheiny were also ordered to pay over £100m in compensation, including £25,000 for every victim.
Piero Ferraris, whose father died of lung cancer after working in an Eternit factory for over 30 years, said: “This trial will go down in history... but it will not bring my dad back.”
Italian prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello said in his closing speech: “I have never seen such a tragedy. It affects workers and inhabitants ... it continues to cause deaths and will continue to do so for who knows how long.”
Italy’s Health Minister Renato Balduzzi said: “It is a historic verdict. But the battle against asbestos does not end here. It is not a local battle, but a national one, a worldwide one.”
Eternit went bankrupt before asbestos was banned in Italy in 1992 and defence lawyers denied the accused men had direct responsibility for the Italian company.
Both men plan to appeal.
Eric's cancer tragedy
Dad Eric Findlow died from asbestos in his lungs after playing as a child on waste dumps outside a killer factory that had links to Eternit.
The owners of the plant had paid Eternit for a licence to use its method of producing asbestos cement.
Eric died of asbestos cancer mesothelioma in 2007 at the age of 66.
Daughter Helen Wilson, 37, said yesterday: “Nobody took responsibility for what happened to our Dad.
“I know he would have been pleased about this court case but it doesn’t take away the fact that we have lost our Dad.”
Eric, who was also exposed to asbestos as a painter and decorator, said he felt cheated when he was diagnosed with cancer.
He added: “The waste tip had grey sheets. I didn’t know what asbestos was at the time but, having worked with it since, I am sure it was asbestos.
“We jumped on the sheets and broke them up. I got dust on myself as I played.”
There’s been no official study into how the Everite plant in Eric’s hometown of Widnes, Cheshire, affected people.
Dozens of workers at the plant, which has now closed, died of asbestos-related disease.
Researcher Jason Addy, of Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Production dust often settled on neighbouring houses.
" And asbestos products were dumped in open waste sites on or near the factory.”
by Nick Sommerlad, 15 Feb 2012. Mirror News, UK
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