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Why won’t Shell sue its former HSE Group Auditor Bill Campbell for libel?

By John Donovan

Printed below are extracts from an email I sent on 9 August 2006 to the then CEO of Royal Dutch Shell Plc., Mr Jeroen van der Veer.

It concerned very serious published allegations against Shell management by the former HSE Group Auditor of Shell International, Mr Bill Campbell. His allegations related to the Brent Bravo explosion in which two Shell employees lost their lives as a consequence of alleged criminal negligence. It was an investigation led by Bill Campbell that revealed the notorious “Touch Fu** All” safety culture for Shell North Sea production platforms, endorsed by Shell management.

Mr Campbell has also alleged a cover-up involving senior executive directors of Royal Dutch Shell.

No reply or acknowledgment was received in response to the email. Shell did contact Mr Campbell’s solicitors in the hope of ending his contact with us. That maneuver was unsuccessful.

We understand that following a long investigation by the Grampion Police, a decision by the Scottish legal authorities on launching a prosecution is imminent.

THE EMAIL

Dear Mr Van der Veer

As a long term Shell shareholder I am extremely concerned by the serious allegations made by the former Shell International Group Auditor, Mr Bill Campbell, concerning alleged falsification of records in relation to the Shell Brent scandal.

We really cannot have a distinguished former high level Shell official being allowed to make such accusations without Shell taking action against him for defamation if, as Shell claims, they are untrue.

This is not a case of some outsider ignorant of the facts making wild accusations. The charges in this case are being made by a person of high reputation and considerable expertise following his authorised investigation as Group Auditor into the Brent safety regime.

Since a number of “accidental” deaths have occurred on Brent Bravo, two of which resulted in a record breaking £900,000 fine imposed on Shell, the allegation of falsification of records could result in criminal charges if true.

Mr Campbell is on record as claiming that he has personally met with you to discuss these matters. If this is correct, then you must be fully briefed on the issues and the allegations he has publicly made. They have been repeated in various mass media sources and in trade publications including, for example, UpstreamOnline.

Mr Campbell says that ESDV leak-off tests were purposely falsified, not once but many times. He further alleges that the inaction of the relevant Asset Manager, the General Manager, the Oil Director and the Shell Expro Managing Director in 1999 (Malcolm Brinded), contributed in some part to the unlawful killing of two persons on Brent Bravo in September 2003.

My father and I have published some outspoken articles about Shell ourselves but nothing as serious as the charges levelled against Shell management by your own former Group Auditor.  And as you are aware, we have a special dispensation from Shell International Petroleum Company to say what we like about Shell.

Surely Shell is not going to allow Mr Campbell to continue repeating these devastating allegations? If they are unfounded, why have you not already instituted libel proceedings? If they are true, why have you not sacked Malcolm Brinded? Why has he not done the honourable thing and resigned?

If you do not take action, people will naturally assume that Shell management is unwilling to do so because Mr Campbell is speaking the truth and can prove it.

If anyone says anything untrue about Shell, it is your duty Mr Van der Veer to take action to protect the reputation of the Shell brand. However, you have my sympathy to some degree because Shell management blunders and misdeeds have been so wide-ranging that people who wish to criticise have an almost unlimited supply of ammunition.

Conclusion: the fact that Shell has not obtained an injunction to prevent Mr Campbell making his allegations speaks volumes.  He is plainly a man of great courage speaking the truth.

Yours sincerely
John Donovan

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