I stumbled across interesting information provided in writing by Alan Rusbridger, in October last year, to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. His entire evidence is available here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmcumeds/memo/press/m13102.htm
The really interesting parts are:
Part 2 - The activities of firms such as Carter-Ruck
Appendix 1 - Extracts from Carter-Ruck website
Appendix 2 - Extract from a chronology of Carter-Ruck dealings with the Guardian on behalf of their client Trafigura
I quote 3 extracts from Appendix 2.
On 27 June 2008, Bell Pottinger sent a threatening message to the Guardian. They had previously sent similar threats and complaints to AP, whose agency dispatch had been published on-line by the Guardian. The message ended:
"Please note that in view of the gravity of these matters and of the allegations which have been published, I am copying Trafigura's solicitors, Carter-Ruck, into this email."
The letter demanded changes to the Guardian's website to include this information:
"The Probo Koala ... left Amsterdam with the full knowledge and clear approval of the Dutch authorities." It also stated that the disposal company in Amsterdam had asked for extra fees "without any credible justification" and that "ship's slops are commonly produced within the oil industry. To label Trafigura's slops as 'toxic waste' in no way accurately reflects their true composition."
On 16 September 2008, Trafigura posted a statement on their website claiming:
"Trafigura is in no way responsible for the sickness suffered by people in Abidjan ... The discharge of slops from cargo vessels is a routine procedure that is undertaken all over the world."
The company knew this was a misleading and false statement.
On 14 November 2008, Bell Pottinger responded "Please note that I am copying this correspondence to Carter-Ruck and to the Guardian's legal department". They added: "Any suggestion, even implicit, that Trafigura ... should have stood trial in Ivory Coast would be completely unfounded and libellous ... We insist that you refer in detail to the contents of the attached summary".
A closely-typed six-page statement was attached. In it the company claimed to have "independent expert evidence" of the non-toxicity of the waste, but refused to disclose it. Trafigura repeated the false claim that the waste was merely "a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda".
No Guardian article, once again, was published.
On 3 December 2008, less than 3 weeks later, Trafigura formally admitted to the High Court the true composition of the waste in its document "Likely chemical composition of the slops", [detailed above].
On 5 December 2008, Trafigura formally admitted their waste came from Merox-style chemical processing attempts, and not from routine tank-rinsing.
The whole evidence is well worth reading.
Legal action, or the threat of legal action, does not turn untruth into truth or, for that matter, truth into untruth.