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Landmark Judgment on Data Protection Act 1998

Leigh Day represent distinguished medical expert in his claim to obtain information from asbestos lobbyist

10 April 2019

In a landmark case about white asbestos, a substance that has been banned throughout the European Union since 2005, the Honourable Mr Justice Warby ruled that Mr John Bridle had failed to comply with a subject access request from Dr. Robin Rudd who Mr Bridle had referred to “the ‘main expert’ for the ‘forces of evil’…”. The judgment also found that these deficiencies were not “trivial or unimportant”.

As a result, Mr Bridle has been ordered to provide all “personal data relating to Dr Rudd which is contained in any […] expert report, together with the date., and all information available to [John Bridle] as to the source or sources of those personal data”.

Mr Justice Warby also ruled that John Bridle was the data controller, and not J&S Bridle Limited, the company controlled by John Bridle and his son, Christopher Bridle.

Background

Dr Rudd is recognised as one of the UK’s leading experts in the science of asbestos-related diseases and over 35 years he has given expert evidence in many cases in the United Kingdom in which claimants have sought damages for mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural disease allegedly caused by exposure to asbestos.

Mr Bridle has been involved with the manufacture and use of chrysotile and asbestos cement products used in the building industry containing the fibre for some 50 years.

He has been active under the banner Asbestos Watchdog and comments on what he calls “the scientific debate regarding Chrysotile Asbestos”.

The dispute between Dr Rudd and Mr Bridle concerning the role of asbestos in causing mesothelioma and other diseases, and Dr Rudd’s conduct in his role as an expert witness for claimants in asbestos claims. The background to the claim was a number of actions by Mr Bridle:
  1. Making a complaint to the General Medical Council (GMC) alleging that Dr. Rudd had falsified the risks to health associated with chrysotile asbestos in expert reports. (The GMC dismissed the complaint, deciding it did not even meet the standard for investigation, and confirmed that decision on review following a challenge by Mr Bridle.)
  2. Making unfounded allegations to MPs that Dr. Rudd was part of a conspiracy with claimant law firms to provide false evidence about the risks associated with white asbestos.
  3. Contributing to a letter sent on behalf of white asbestos manufacturers in Thailand carrying an implied threat of future proceedings against Dr. Rudd by companies involved in chrysotile production.
  4. Communicating with allies in the asbestos industry about ways to discredit Dr. Rudd.

As a result of these actions, Dr Rudd made a subject access request to Mr Bridle, who responded saying he had no personal data that was not legally privileged apart from the name and address of Dr. Rudd.

As a result, Dr Rudd brought a claim under sections 7 and 10 of the Data Protection Act seeking orders requiring John Bridle and/or J&S Bridle Limited to comply with his subject access request and Section 10 Notices.

Mr Bridle vigorously defended the claim. In addition, he claimed that he was not the Data Controller and instead it was his company J&S Bridle Limited. As a result, J&S Bridle Limited was added as a defendant. Eventually J&S Bridle Limited provided information that showed hundreds of comments, such as the following:
  1. “I really feel that I have at long last the silver bullet to bury them for good and the Rudd XX conspiracy is the key”.
  2. “Back to Rudd. I don’t expect to nail this crook as the establishment will circle the wagons round one of their own”.
  3. “Re the quack Rudd I really hope your plan works”.
  4. “They get a ruling from the Judge based upon this advice and then XX and Rudd skip off to become expert witnesses for the defendants and asking mega bucks out of it”.
  5. “It would also be good if we can get the prosecution of Dr. Rudd running at the same time”.
  6. “I am also involved in 3 other Rudd cases where his false evidence is being used for obtaining compensation…if we can discredit her main expert Dr. Rudd…. Again to get Dr. Rudd discredited…It is on his expertise to the UK Supreme Courts that chrysotile cement is automatically classed as a causation of Mesothelioma”.
  7. “Finding a Judge that hasn’t been Rudded”, “Most [courts] have been Rudded”.

These statements were deeply hurtful to Dr. Rudd. In the 35 years in which he has given evidence as an expert he has never been criticised by any Court for the evidence he has given or had his professionalism or good faith called into question. Nor has he ever received any other complaint to the GMC.

During the two and a half day trial Mr Bridle gave evidence. The Judge found Mr Bridle to be dishonest and obstructive throughout the proceedings. Central parts of his evidence were rejected as false and dishonest and thoroughly disingenuous and designed to mislead.

Mr Bridle’s initial responses to the Subject Access Request were to lie. He denied that he held any information about Dr. Rudd apart from his name and address or legally privileged information and maintained that he had no intention to harm Dr. Rudd’s reputation.

Mr Bridle’s disingenuous attempt to claim that the Second Defendant was the data controller, in order to avoid exposure to costs or damages, threw the proceedings off course, resulting in unnecessary delay and expense. Judgment has been entered against Mr Bridle.

He has been ordered to provide descriptions of recipients of personal data, identities of persons currently redacted and any information as to the sources of the personal data.

Dr. Rudd is represented by Harminder Bains, Partner at Leigh Day who gave evidence during the hearing.

Counsel representing Dr. Rudd is Guy Vassall-Adams QC and Emma Foubister of Matrix Chambers.

Read the Judgment here.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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