Tata Steel director belongs in jail, lawyer says in first lawsuit against big polluters
Criminal defense lawyer Benedicte Ficq is turning her sights on the directors of polluting companies, pressing charges against them for their harmful policies. Her first target is Tata Steel CEO Hans van den Berg, who Ficq pressed charges against on behalf of 1,200 residents living near the steel factory. “There is something wrong with your conscience if you think shareholders’ dividend is more important than the health of local residents. A prison sentence is then appropriate,” Ficq told the Financieele Dagblad.
Ficq wants to see Van den Berg behind bars as an example to other big polluters, she told the newspaper. She expects the Public Prosecution Service (OM) to decide whether to prosecute the Tata Steel CEO by the end of this year.
“We want people not to be able to hide behind structures and companies. We want to make a person responsible for themself. That is important in the Tata charges,” Ficq said. “Directors of other companies must realize that they can end up in prison if they are not clean.”
Ficq targets Tata Steel first because it is widely considered the Netherlands’ biggest polluter. She acts on behalf of 1,200 locals living around the factory in IJmuiden. “Residents are under a lot of stress, feel very let down by the government, and are afraid for their children’s health,” Ficq said. “There are declarants who are convinced they got cancer by living near Tata. There are many children with asthma. Parents fear that lead pollution will affect their children’s brain development.”
She pointed out that Tata Steel has to clean the playgrounds around its factory daily. “Pretty perverse. Tata Steel is confronted every day with the self-made dirty black precipitation in the playgrounds around the company, junk that also ends up in the lungs and organs of children.”
Ficq thinks criminal charges against Van den Berg are absolutely appropriate. “It is very logical that everyone thinks you shouldn’t kill anyone. Even a 2-year-old thinks that. But no one talks about causing pathogenic pollution as a crime. I find that very strange. Can you kill someone in the longer term, then? And isn’t it logical that illegality lies in the indifference to hazardous pollution?”
“We don’t have to prove that individuals have become ill from Stata Steel. The danger of getting sick is the point. If the risk of disease is high and the emissions can explain this danger, then that is enough,” Ficq said. Doctors in the area report diagnosing more cancer than the Dutch average, and the health risks are confirmed by GGD and RIVM reports.
“The prevalence of lung cancer appears to be much higher than in other industrial areas. Hans van den Berg knows all this. But we do have to produce steel, he says.”