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Italian cement factory billionaire convicted of asbestos victims’ deaths

Anti-asbestos campaigners including Leigh Day partner Harminder Bains are celebrating a major victory after Italy asbestos cement factory billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny was convicted of aggravated manslaughter related to the death of hundreds of people.

Posted on 08 June 2023

Swiss based Stephan Schmidheiny has been sentenced to 12 years in prison after a court found his factory caused the death of 392 people, including more than 60 workers and around 330 residents in Casale Monferrato, where his Eternit firm was based.

The factory was the city’s main employer of around 35,000 people for almost 80 years until the 1980s.

Harminder Bains, joint head of Leigh Day asbestos team, whose own father died of mesothelioma, said she was delighted to read of Schmidheiny’s conviction following the decades long struggle for justice for asbestos victims in Casale Monferrato, Italy,

Schmidheiny's factories, which closed in 1986, used asbestos in the production of cement between the 1970s and the 1980s.

Harminder Bains said:

“This is a significant legal victory for anti-asbestos campaigners around the world. I only wish the English legal system was as equally sophisticated as the Italian legal system seems to be, to enable it to convict a CEO of aggravated manslaughter for exposing people to asbestos. This has not been done in the UK. I believe we in the UK should consider bringing similar corporate manslaughter charges against the CEOs and boards of companies such as Cape, which was a leading manufacturer of asbestos products in the UK.”

Harminder represented the Asbestos Victims Forum UK in their successful Supreme Court case, which forced Cape to disclose documents proving that, from the 1960s, Cape deliberately withheld evidence on the risks its asbestos products posed to human life for profit. She said “Cape should never have fought the case to prevent the documents from coming into the public domain, as the documents are extremely informative for public health and safety concerns.” 

Now, alongside the Asbestos Victims Support Forum, Harminder is campaigning for Cape to pay £10 million towards medical research to find a cure for mesothelioma. The campaign is called #CapeMustPay.

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