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Letter from Bill Campbell to UK and Scottish MP’s – March 2011

Criminal Investigation uncovers lies and deceit

My name is Bill Campbell.  I am a former Senior Operations and Maintenance Engineer who also acted as a Group Auditor for Shell International. I previously wrote to UK MP’s, and to the Lords, in July 2007.  This letter is an update on what has happened since and also what happened to the concerns raise by a number of MP’s at the time.  The key findings from the current investigation listed below are based on an update given to me by the Procurator Fiscal(s) on 18th February past. 

Background

Some time ago the police in Aberdeen passed a report to the Procurator Fiscal.  Subsequently a criminal investigation commenced led by Anne Currie, Area Procurator Fiscal for Grampian Region assisted by Andrew Grant, Area Procurator Fiscal for Central Region.  The investigation has focussed to date on the role of HSE officials at the Offshore Safety Division of the HSE based in Aberdeen. The allegations against these officials were that they were unduly influenced by Shell, potential bribery and corruption, to cover up the full circumstances of a multiple fatality on the offshore installation Brent Bravo in September 2003, and the subsequent Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) held in Aberdeen.

What has the investigation established, the 7 key findings

1. HSE failed to pass vital evidence to the Procurator Fiscal in Aberdeen prior to the Fatal Accident Inquiry.  HSE had obtained this evidence directly from Shell only days after the fatalities and by November 2003. Shell informed HSE that the Brent Bravo fatalities were not just an unfortunate, but isolated incident, but there was a general malaise offshore with chronic weakness in essential management controls evident across the oilfield. The Fiscal was made aware of this evidence by me at the commencement of the FAI.  This was the time when I first became aware that HSE had not provided this evidence to the Fiscal. He then attempted to introduce this evidence belatedly, but the Sheriff desisted, due to the restrictions placed on him by the 1976 FAI Scotland Act.

2. If the Procurator Fiscal(s) had been in possession of the evidence given by Shell to HSE in 2003, as they should have been, this would most likely have led the Lord Advocate to sanction a more General Inquiry into how Shell had operated across the oilfield in the prolonged period from 1999 till the deaths.  And to how HSE had failed to reverse the degradation of facilities over this period despite issuing many Enforcement Notices and raising their ongoing concerns with Shell Directors. 

3. Although Shell pled guilty to a number of serious breaches of legislation related to the deaths on Brent Bravo, their employees, and Society as a whole, were never made aware that similar breaches were apparent on 16 other offshore installations. The appalling conditions present on these installations raised risks to unacceptable levels but the workforce remained blissfully unaware of the risks they were taking, simply by being on these installations. Despite the conditions on these installations and in contravention of the HSC Enforcement Policy no formal enforcement actions were taken by HSE at the time and no attempt was made by Shell or HSE to assess the risks of continued operation.  It is estimated that some 40 prohibition and/or improvement notices would have been required to cover some 80 serious breaches apparent at the time.  Since 2003, Shell are on public record of expending to date some £800 million to return these facilities to the risk levels as stated in the offshore installation specific Safety Cases.

4. At the time the FAI results were made public the BBC in Scotland aired a TV programme on 14th June 2006 highly critical of Shell and HSE in relation to the deaths on Brent Bravo and this was picked up by Newspapers across the UK including the Times and the Guardian.  In total contradiction with the facts Shell denied wrongdoing stating that in the period 1999 to the deaths in 2003 ‘significant progress had been made on both asset integrity and management systems. This contributed to the continuous improvement in Shell’s safety performance over that period ‘. 

5. HSE were aware that the Press Releases by Shell were false.  I wrote to the HSE CEO complaining about this at the time, how could HSE stay mute when they were aware that the Shell statement was a pack of lies? He did not reply.   The feedback from the ongoing investigation has confirmed that Geoffrey Podger, the CEO of the HSE, was aware that the statements made by Shell in their Press Releases of 2006 were false and misleading.  His defence is that the Shell statement put HSE in a difficult position as their Policy does not allow them to comment on the health and safety performance of individual organisations. 

6. With respect to the allegations of bribery of HSE officials by Shell over the period 1999 till 2003 the Procurator Fiscal(s) can find no physical evidence of this.  They trawled through what records were currently still available looking at the degree and spread of hospitality given to HSE officials by Shell in this period.  However the records for this period are no longer available being routinely destroyed after a 5-year lapsed period and were thus simply not available to examine.

7. The Procurator Fiscal(s) have reviewed the results of an internal investigation carried out to ascertain if HSE could, or should have been able to foresee and prevent the Brent Bravo fatalities with the information available to them between 1999 and 2003.  The HSE internal investigation found essential weaknesses in their enforcement process resulting in 18 recommendations for improvement which have subsequently been implemented.

What happened to the concerns raised by MP’s in 2007

In August 2007 around 12 MP’s including the then Secretary of State for Scotland got involved and wrote to Bill McKenzie at that time a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Work and Pensions.  In a process that apparently by-passed Geoffrey Podger and his Head of the Offshore Safety Division, the HSE officials, against whom the allegations were made, were allowed to draft a reply directly to McKenzie.  The Procurator Fiscal(s) carrying out the current investigation have viewed the correspondence between HSE and Work and Pensions in 2007 and it is not contentious that the information provide to McKenzie by HSE officials was false and misleading.  The MP’s who had raised the mater were thus hoodwinked by a false account of events.

Bill McKenzie, who was provided with the same evidence in 2009 as currently held by the public investigators, wrote to me at that time, stating his satisfaction with the advice given to him by HSE officials in 2007.  He did this despite being aware that a criminal investigation into the conduct of those officials had commenced in March that year.  In the same letter he made clear that Geoffrey Podger did not authorise the advice given to him in 2007 and that there was no need for him to do so.  I find that statement by the Under Secretary truly remarkable.  The allegations raised by me and taken seriously by the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service in Scotland were that HSE officials had in 2003 purposefully covered up the criminal neglect of Shell, either for personal gain, or to mask from public scrutiny their failures to protect workers offshore from unacceptable risk.  Could there be a more damming allegation.  Yet the reply to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the other MP’s in 2007 was not, it appears, worthy of the involvement of the HSE CEO. 

Finally both Shell an HSE have been given right off reply to what is written here and have raised no legal, or other objections to it issue.  For some time I have been pressing Anne Currie to make her investigation public.  It is clearly in the public interest. Neither the Scottish or UK Government, finds argument with the proposal, that in all matters related to the health and safety of persons at work, there must be openness and transparency.  I would hope that on receipt of this letter the appropriate oversight committees at Westminster and Holyrood  would consider the implications of this letter and give the concerns raised in the letter the public exposure they merit.

Yours sincerely

Bill Campbell

March 9th 2011

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