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£7.5m deal in asbestos case

A long-running battle for compensation against a British company brought by thousands of South African miners with asbestos-related disease was settled yesterday for £7.5m at the High Court.

The settlement against Cape plc also included provision for a further £3.1m by South African company Gencor Ltd, making a total payout to the workers of £10.6m. The deal was clinched in March this year, but was formally approved yesterday by Sir Michael Wright at a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Cape's barrister told the judge: "Cape has actively promoted and pursued this settlement, although it does not make any admission of liability. The Cape board is pleased that it comes to a close and that Cape can now move on."

During the hearing, a banker's draft was handed on behalf of Cape to Lord Brennan QC, representing more than 7,000 claimants, for more than £7m. After hearing from Lord Brennan on behalf of the 7,500 claimants and Charles Gibson QC, for Cape, Sir Michael said he was more than happy to approve the settlement sum. He paid tribute to all parties "for the common sense of the negotiations that have gone on".

The settlement will cover only claimants registered in the UK legal action and not future ones. Solicitors for the claimants, Leigh, Day and Co, said: "The amount of the settlement is insufficient to enable funds to be distributed among further claimants." But they said the number of excluded claimants "should be small".

The solicitors said the settlement reached in March came after "investigations revealed Cape was in serious financial difficulty and experts advised there was a real threat of insolvency. Had that happened, it is doubtful whether the victims would have received a cent".

Cape plc, which sold its asbestos mines in 1979 and now works in asbestos removal, no longer has any interests in South Africa. At a previous hearing, Lord Brennan said it was the largest group action in Britain and the largest transnational claim of its kind.