BBC concedes toTrafigura

BBC concede to Trafigura and settle libel action, costs predicted to be £3 million

on Censorship and English PEN today have expressed dismay that the BBC
has conceded the libel action brought by toxic waste shippers Trafigura
in the High Court. We believe this is a case of such high public
interest that it was incumbent upon a public sector broadcaster like
the BBC to have held their ground in order to test in a Court of law
the truth of the BBC’s report or determine whether a vindication of
Trafigura was deserved. The deal is neither open nor transparent.

case was brought by Trafigura after the BBC claimed in its Newsnight
programme of 13 May 2009 that Trafigura had caused deaths by being
involved in the dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu concluded in a report on 3 September 2009 that:

the basis of the above considerations and taking into account the
immediate impact on public health and the proximity of some of the
dumping sites to areas where affected populations reside, the Special
Rapporteur considers that there seems to be strong prima facie evidence
that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to
the dumping of the waste from the Probo Koala.”

has paid out $200 million to the government of the Ivory Coast, and in
London settled for £30 million a joint action made by 31,000 Ivorians.

the BBC has now apparently concluded that the toxic waste dumped by the
Probo Koala did not cause deaths, serious or long-term injuries and
retracted their Newsnight piece in full and removed all reports from
their web site.

English PEN and Index on Censorship believe that
costs were a major factor behind the BBC’s decision. According to a
leading media lawyer, Mark Stephens of FSI, the cost of such a case
would have been in excess of £3 million.
In their statement the BBC said:

BBC withdraws the allegation that deaths, miscarriages or serious or
long-term injuries were caused by the waste and apologises to Trafigura
for having claimed otherwise.”

John Kampfner, CEO of Index on Censorship said:

the BBC has once again buckled in the face of authority or wealthy
corporate interests. It has cut a secret deal. This is a black day for
British journalism and once more strengthens our resolve to reform our
unjust libel laws.”

Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, said:

to choose between a responsible broadcaster and an oil company which
shipped hundreds of tons of toxic waste to a developing country,
English libel law has once again allowed the wrong side to claim
victory. The law is an ass and needs urgent reform.”


For more information please contact Mike Harris on 0207 324 2534 or 07974 838468 or:

Or alternatively, Padraig Ready, Index on Censorship on 07947 242476.

Notes for editors:

  • A full briefing on this issue is available at:
  • So far, 8,000 people have signed the national petition for a Libel Reform Bill at The Libel Reform campaign is a coalition of English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science.
  • English
    PEN and Index on Censorship launched the ‘Free Speech Is Not For Sale’
    report in November, detailing the chilling effect of English libel law
    on freedom of expression in the UK and across the world (see
    Jack Straw described the report as ‘impressive’ and quickly moved to
    set up a working party on English libel law reform which will convene
    in January. Since the publication of the report, the Conservatives have
    said they are interested in looking at reform and the Liberal Democrats
    have publicly committed to reform.
  • Following the case of the science writer Simon Singh being sued for libel for an article in the Guardian,
    Sense About Science’s campaign for scientific and academic freedom from
    libel threats has attracted nearly 20,000 supporters, including leading
    scientists, authors, broadcasters, lawyers. They have come together, as
    the Coalition for Libel Reform (, to campaign for a bill to bring major reforms to the English law of libel.

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