UK Protests Mount Over T&N Administration
The suspicions and uncertainties generated by the freezing of T&N Ltd.’s assets under the Administration Order of 1st October, 2001, have generated a parliamentary and public outcry. Questions on several aspects of T&N’s recent history, including the stopping of compensation cheques, the company’s insurance cover and its 1997 take-over by the U.S. automotive conglomerate Federal-Mogul (FM), were put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by Michael Clapham, MP for Barnsley, West and Penistone, early in December. Treasury Minister Ruth Kelly’s brief reply appeared in the official record on the 19th December; she confirmed that the company’s assets had been frozen and that much remained unknown about the company’s complex insurance history.
On 17th December, John Battle, the MP for Leeds, West, used an obscure Parliamentary device (Standing Order No. 24) to move the House of Commons to discuss the "annus horribilis for asbestos victims in Britain." Calling for a full debate, Battle said that a co-ordinated Government response was needed "to ensure that victims get compensation and polluting companies pay." Although the Speaker of the House denied permission on that occasion, Battle secured a thirty minute adjournment debate on 10th January, 2002. During the discussion, he spoke about the mesothelioma epidemic in Armley, Leeds - the location of an asbestos textile factory owned by the T&N Group. When the first UK case for environmental asbestos exposure was lost by T&N, Justice Holland accused the company of "using any means possible, legitimate or otherwise… to wear the plaintiffs (two Armley residents) down by attrition." According to Battle, the war of attrition is continuing: "the resort to administration looks like a rearguard action of complex corporate gamesmanship to avoid responsibility for paying out legitimate court-won compensation awards." A series of detailed questions arising from T&N’s "murky" insurance history was asked by Battle:
"Could it be that there is a massive question mark over Turner & Newall’s insurance cover?"
"Why do my constituents and other victims not now have access to that insurance fund (£1 billion of cover) with their claims?"
"Why cannot it (the insurance cover) be ring-fenced and made available (to UK victims)?"
"This issue is absolutely crucial: has Turner and Newall provided proper insurance cover for itself, or not? If it has not, why has the company not been investigated for failing to comply with the law? Why is it allowed to sidestep its legal insurance responsibilities?"
"If it (T&N) does have insurance, why are payments to those owed compensation now being denied?"
"Why is it not possible for claimants’ (legal) representatives to see the (Employers’ Liability) certificates?"
"Why cannot we know about the history of Turner and Newall’s employer’s liability coverage?"
Concluding his presentation, Battle called on Miss Melanie Johnson, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, to commit the Government to a public enquiry. The content of the thirteen minute response given by Ms. Johnson has been traced to a document entitled: The General Report and Background to the Proposals of the Joint Administrators of the Federal Mogul UK Filing Group of Companies (In Administration) which is being distributed by Kroll Buchler Phillips, the court-appointed administrators of T&N. Entire sentences and most of the financial information have been lifted from this report and presented as an integral part of the Government’s response. As in the Chester Street/Iron Trades debacle, the Government appears willing to rubber- stamp the assessment of non-government experts. Ms. Johnson’s assertion that: "the approach adopted by the FM group seems to us the most sensible in the circumstances" is unconvincing. There will be a ninety minute debate on asbestos issues in the House of Commons on 16th January; the participation of MPs Michael Clapham, Tony Worthington, Tony Lloyd and John Battle is anticipated.
A groundswell of public protest has also been building in parts of the country affected by asbestos-related disease. With a long history of shipbuilding and heavy industry, Clydeside, Scotland has the highest Standardised Mortality Ratio for mesothelioma in Great Britain. On 18th January, an asbestos seminar will be held at Clydebank Town Hall to discuss developments including the T&N Administration Order and adverse judgments handed down in the Fairchild case. Politicians, academics and legal experts will rally support for the Clydeside Action on Asbestos Petition to the Scottish Parliament and "discuss the campaigning needs of the year ahead." On 8th February a public meeting will be held in Manchester, T&N’s home town. The six asbestos victims’ groups sponsoring this meeting are calling for action to ensure justice for asbestos victims. The two-hour meeting will commence at 7 p.m. at The Friends Meeting House in Mount Street and will also address the T&N and Fairchild issues.
January 14, 2002