BAT attacked for destroying documents

BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO PLC has been attacked by its own shareholders at the annual general meeting for having destroyed documents in March 1998. The destruction of documents led to a groundbreaking ruling last week in Australia where a judge rejected BAT's defense in a suit for damages for a lung cancer victim, citing the fact that the company had destroyed documents. The court awarded damages of $372,000 to the victim.

The attack which followed at the BAT annual general meeting was led by a well-known anti-smoking campaigner but BAT boss Martin Broughton counter-attacked saying that when the documents were destroyed there was no litigation in process or even pending and that the paperwork was at least 17 years old. He added that it was "difficult to see on what basis the ruling was made".

BAT currently has a policy of holding on all documents relating to legal matters. Broughon also said that the Australian case did not set a legal precedent and that the ruling was, in any case, being appealed by BAT lawyers.

The case highlights the constant pressure that exists on all the tobacco companies - which is a feature of the current battles in Europe over tobacco advertising. The FIA is trying to establish a global agreement that will see all tobacco advertising in motor racing stopped at the end of 2006 - and not before.

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