Open Letter to Ran Oren, Joint CEO of Altrad

On 26 October the Forum of UK Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups sent the following open letter to Mr Ran Oren, the Joint CEO of Cape’s parent company Altrad. He is also the sole director of Cape Intermediate Holdings. It was addressed to his office at 125, Rue du Mas de Carbonnier, 34000 Montpellier in France.

Dear Mr Oren,

I am writing to you yet again as Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum UK (the Forum) in respect of our request that CAPE/Altrad should pay £10 million towards medical research to find a cure for Mesothelioma.  We believe you have a moral responsibility to contribute to research.

We hope that you have been informed by your teams in Thurnscoe and Warrington  that we held a demonstration outside your offices and  that our leaflets and messages have been passed on to you.  There is also considerable political support for our request as your company was central to the asbestos disease epidemic.

You will no doubt be aware of the fact that the Forum fought a legal case against Cape Intermediate Holdings Limited (company no: 40203) for historical documents to be handed to them so they could be placed in the public domain.  You hired Freshfields, an international specialist firm together with numerous QCs and fought the legal case. Whereas, the Forum as a charity could not afford such an extravagance on legal costs and were grateful to Leigh Day to agreeing to represent them pro-bono.  However, as you are no doubt aware, the Forum was successful and the documents have now been placed on the Forum’s website.  These documents reveal significant information such as:

  • Cape’s in-house sampling data show significantly higher dust counts than Technical Data Note 13 (TDN13) levels, even when just handling Asbestos Insulation Board (AIB) trade name Asbestolux.
  • Cape compromised the Government’s regulatory response to asbestos:
  • Cape lobbied the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) and succeeded in downgrading the regulation from a ‘no dust policy’ to a ‘maximum allowable concentration approach’.
  • It then successfully lobbied to increase the proposed limits.
  • All the while, Cape adopted a policy of selectively sharing its sampling data with the BOHS, providing evidence of low dust counts and withholding the more damning surveys.
  • Cape lobbied the Government to water down the suggested approach to warning labels on AIB.  Internal correspondence shows it campaigned to prevent other manufacturers from introducing warning labels on its own AIB/Asbestolux.
  • Cape provided misleading reassurance about the dangers of asbestos in its communications with the Government and the public, contrary to its own data as to dust counts and health risks of asbestos.
  • Despite the process by which the BOHS limits had been set, and the fact that they related to asbestosis, Cape engaged a public relations firm to publicly use the limits as a rebuttal against the risk of cancer.
  • Cape publicly stated that there was no risk from handling AIB/Asbestolux, despite knowing the “high” dust counts in its own sampling data.
  • Cape continued to manufacture AIB/Asbestolux in 1980 contrary to defending court cases on the basis it had ceased manufacture in 1978.
  • Martin Stear, liability expert on behalf of Concept 70 Limited conceded that TDN13 limits only related to asbestosis and not to mesothelioma.  Also that work with Asbestolux and Marinite, including simply handling these boards, carried the potential for very high exposure and that only cutting for ten minutes probably had a higher exposure than the TDN42/EH35 figures.
  • Dr Smither (Cape’s Group Medical Adviser) accepted that mesothelioma could be caused by “short and possibly small” exposure and that “no type of asbestos proved innocent”.

The above points are just a brief extract of the extraordinary information which has been adduced from the documents, and which is now extremely useful to claimants suffering from asbestos related diseases in their claims for compensation.  Prior to these documents coming to light some legal cases have been lost and others, sadly, not even pursued.  Thus, preventing these claimants from receiving compensation which they should rightly in law have received.

On 20th March 2022 an article was published in the Guardian newspaper regarding the legal case and the Forum’s request for £10 million.  The journalist Harroon Siddique contacted a spokesperson for Cape who responded “Cape was taken over in 2017 and its current management cannot comment on this matter, based on historical events that occurred over 40 years ago.  However, Cape remains fully committed to the scheme of arrangement that was put in place and approved by a UK court to provide compensation payouts and will continue to meet all its obligations associated with that scheme”.

However, we consider that response to be unsatisfactory as well as incomplete.  The Forum commenced its legal case on 6th April 2017 and the Supreme Court Judgment was given on 29th July 2019 and the final High Court Judgment was given on 16th July 2020.

We have compared the accounts for Cape Intermediate Holdings Limited for the year ending 31 December 2017 with the accounts for the year ending 31 August 2021.   These show you were the named sole director in 2017 and you remain the named sole director in the 2021 accounts.

In addition the immediate parent company of the company in 2017 was Cape Holdco Limited and the ultimate parent company was Altrad Investment Authority SAS.  In the accounts dated 31 August 2021 Cape Holdco Limited remains the immediate parent company and Altrad Investment Authority SAS remains the ultimate parent company.  Therefore, there was “no change of management”  or “change of effective control” during the course of the legal case.

The filed accounts show that the UK companies in the Cape group and its ultimate parent company Altrad, which is a global company, have substantial resources to pay the £10 million.  Our analysis of the accounts dated 31 August 2021 for Cape Intermediate Holdings Limited show net assets of £151.5 million (page12).  Altrad which is the ultimate parent company’s Annual Report for 2021 (page 91) shows net profit of 169 million euros and the news release from the Altrad website Half Year Results 2022 show an increase of 183 million euros.

The Forum remains perplexed that Cape fought relentlessly to keep the documents from the public domain when they revealed that Cape’s products were far more dangerous than previously known.  For “public health” reasons Cape should have agreed to hand them over. Your contribution to medical research may go some way, to recompense victims of asbestos disease.  Many families’ have been destroyed on the loss of their loved ones.  These people, unlike Cape, were not aware of the dangers but had to go to work to provide for their families and paid with their lives through no fault of their own.

Therefore, as the Cape Group companies have profited from asbestos products which have caused thousands of deaths, we write to request your agreement, on behalf of the Cape Group, to pay £10 million for medical research to find a cure for mesothelioma.

I look forward to hearing from you by return.

Yours sincerely

Joanne Gordon (Chair AVSGF)