Companies House Drops Plans To Destroy Public Records


The Law Of... holding organisations to account

Plans by the government to reduce the number of years for which the records of dissolved companies are retained have been abandoned; news welcomed by those concerned as to the impact it would have on the chances of justice for victims of historical industrial diseases.

Government Backs Down on Plans to Destroy Public Records

Gavin Evans, Head of Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar, looks at this latest development and how the original recommendation could have affected thousands suffering – or yet to be diagnosed with – conditions like mesothelioma.

Scrutinise Corporate Wrongdoing

Branded as an "attack on the right of the public, the police and journalists to scrutinise corporate wrongdoing", by deputy Labour leader, Tom Watson, the Company House plans to delete more than 2.5million public records were first mooted earlier this year. It would have seen the amount of time for which the records of dissolved companies were kept being cut from 20 years to just 6.

This would have impacted upon a wide range of investigatory bodies, including the National Crime Agency and Serious Fraud Office, making what was already a difficult task – bringing defunct organisations to justice for past wrongdoings – even harder.

Sufferers of asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, were particularly at risk from these proposals, due to the time it can take for the related conditions to develop.

Asbestos-related Diseases

Although all 6 types of asbestos are now banned in the UK, it was widely used as a building material throughout the greater part of the 20th century, particularly during the post-war years up until the 1980s.

Its continued use until the mid-80s onwards, when bans on the various forms of the mineral started being imposed (the last type – white asbestos – finally being banned in 1999), has meant that many unfortunate individuals, exposed to the lethal material through their work, are now condemned to living with a time bomb ticking away inside them.

There are 4 main diseases associated with exposure to asbestos:

  • Mesothelioma – A cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs and is responsible for the highest number of proven asbestos-related deaths. With a prolonged gestation period of anything up to 50 years it is usually diagnosed in a late stage, dramatically reducing the chances of survival beyond 2 years
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer – Conventional lung cancer but brought about by exposure to asbestos. Estimated to annually cause the same number of deaths as mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis – With similar symptoms to mesothelioma, as well as a long gestation period from initial exposure, Asbestosis results in fibrosis of the lungs. It is not a cancer and is not necessarily fatal, although it was the exclusive cause of 477 deaths in 2013
  • Pleural thickening – Causes the lining of the lungs to become inflamed, resulting in breathlessness and chest pains. Non-fatal

The symptoms for each disease are extremely debilitating, reducing the quality of life for the sufferer for as long as they survive it.

Denied Access to Justice

The decision to abandon the plans to delete the public records on such a large scale was welcomed by the chairman of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, who said:

"This decision is good news for victims of mesothelioma and other long-tail industrial diseases... If these proposals had gone ahead it would have denied access to justice to many asbestos victims unable to pursue a negligent employer or their insurer."

Gavin comments:

"With the latency period of this particular group of illnesses being so long, victims, or their families, who wish to seek financial redress from the businesses responsible – to either aid the costs of their ongoing treatment and support, or for their loss – often find that the company they worked for no longer exists."

"Already faced with an uphill battle for justice, the destruction of the public records held by Company House would've been a devastating blow, making it all but impossible to trace the directors, shareholders or insurers of the organisations accountable, to enable a claim to be pursued."

"Along with the campaigners who have sought the overturning of the original proposal, we welcome the decision to drop these plans. That said, with the government saying they intend to 'keep the retention period under review', the fight to ensure sufferers of asbestos and other similarly related conditions continue to get the justice they are entitled to, may not be over."

Companies House has an office in Wales, a 10 minute drive from Simpson Millar's own Cardiff office, which handles Industrial Disease claims along with Personal Injury and Family Law.

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