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Danish scientist latest victim of "libel tourism"

21 December 2009

General Electric is preparing to sue a Danish scientist in the English courts for libel over comments he made about a drug manufactured by the multinational conglomerate.

In October 2007, radiologist Henrik Thomsen commented during a conference in Oxford that Omniscan, a contrast agent intended to enhance the readability of MRI scans, had potentially deadly side effects.

Professor Thomsen repeated his comments in February 2008 in a Belgian radiology magazine with a worldwide circulation of 12,000, including 1,000 in Britain.

GE issues proceedings and a letter of claims on 25 April 2008 and has run up over £380,000 in costs.

Thomsen is represented by Andrew Stephenson, senior partner at Carter-Ruck, under a conditional fee agreement.

The case is the latest in a series of so-called libel tourism claims that have cast fears that the English courts are being used by foreign claimants allegedly taking advantage of Britain's favourable libel law.

Earlier this year it emerged that an English scientist, Peter Wilmshurst, was being sued in Britain by US company NMT Medical for remarks over one its products he made while attending a cardiology conference in Washington in 2007.

Following news that justice minister Jack Straw would be meeting Professor Wilmshurst to discuss "libel tourism", Stephenson wrote to Jack Straw detailing some of the issues arising in cases such as these.

In the letter, seen by Solicitors Journal, Stephenson explained that the risk and cost of disputing the jurisdiction of the English court was such that the scientist "found himself in a position where he is forced to defend himself before the courts in England".

According to the letter, there has been publicity of the problems associated with the drug in Denmark, both in newspaper reports and television programmes, and in the USA, where patients have reportedly started proceedings against, among other, GE Healthcare.

Stephenson said his firm was not aware that GE Healthcare had brought proceedings in respect of such publications in either Denmark or the USA.

In a separate development, the BBC has apologised to commodities trader Trafigura for false allegations made on Newsnight in May in relation to oil discharges off Ivory Coast by the Probo Koala, a vessel chartered by Trafigura.

The BBC has agreed to pay Trafigura's legal costs and £25,000 in damages.

In September the personal injury claims brought on behalf of 30,000 Ivorian were settled in the High Court, where Mr Justice McDuff endorsed expert findings that the injuries suffered by the claimants could not be linked to the discharges.

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