Alessandro Pugno and the Eternit Trial - Manchester Mesothelioma Support Group
10 May 2017
On Monday 8th May, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a talk by Alessandro Pugno at the Patient and Carers meeting held by the Greater Manchester Asbestos Victim Support Group and Mesothelioma UK.
It was both interesting and saddening to hear Alessandro’s story. He comes from a town in Italy, Casale Monferrato near Turin where for many years a major employer was a company called Eternit. They had 4 factories altogether in Italy and were a multi-national company. They were a large asbestos manufacturer who in Italy produced asbestos cement. As a result of their activities they exposed both workers in their factory and those living near the factory to asbestos dust.
The town had a population of approximately 36,000 of which 2,000 have already died from mesothelioma and on average 50 people per annum, nearly 1 a week from the town are diagnosed with mesothelioma today. Every person in Casale Monferrato lives with the knowledge that they may one day develop mesothelioma from which they will die. They all know somebody who has died of mesothelioma.
The Italian judicial system is different to the UK and so individuals cannot afford to fight for compensation themselves through the courts. Instead their hope for justice was pinned on a criminal prosecution brought against the former major shareholders and directors of the company.
Many of the people from the town, some quite elderly attended court each day to listen to the evidence. They wanted justice for all those who had gone before them, for family members and for friends who had died of mesothelioma. They also attended the Supreme Court hearing and verdict.
They thought they had found justice too, when both the first court and the Court of Appeal convicted the former owners and sentenced them to prison, initially to 16 years and then to 18 years and ordered them to pay millions in compensation. However the Supreme Court overturned the decision for technical reasons, the statute of limitations meant that the time to pursue the criminal prosecutions had already expired and so the owners could not legally be prosecuted.
Alessandro showed clips from ‘Dust - The Great Asbestos Trial’, a documentary about the case.
The documentary showed people talking about why they were fighting and what they were hoping for. It also showed a local head teacher who herself had mesothelioma caused by Eternit. Her aim was to give hope to people and to show that you could live with this condition.
Alessandro himself has lost his step-father to mesothelioma. He too also knows there is a risk that one day he himself may develop this awful condition.
Questions were asked about health care in Italy and Alessandro explained that because there is such a high incidence of mesothelioma in Casale that the health system is able to respond to patients needs.
Alessandro also showed a clip from another documentary he had made in Peru, ‘Playgrounds of Lead’. There, many of the people from the community of Huayhuay work in the local lead mine. A teacher at the local school alleges that the lead is contaminating the soil and water supply which is making people ill and affecting the children’s ability to learn. The documentary showed how people were scared to speak out for fear of losing their jobs, a job they need to be able to support their family but the children had hope for the future that things may change.
Others from the group asked questions and gave details of other local issues including about the Turner Brothers Asbestos factory at Rochdale where a water pipe has recently burst and the concerns for safety when work is carried out on the site.
One of the main points that I took away from the meeting is the need to ensure that the dangers of asbestos remain in the public eye both in the UK but also abroad where asbestos is still being needlessly used today. Unfortunately none of us can change the past but with campaigning and increased awareness we can help to change the future.
The Asbestos Law Partnership LLP
Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre
Telephone: 01422 399552