Widow loses 12-year compensation battle with cigarette firm

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A widow's 12-year battle to force one of the world's biggest tobacco companies to pay compensation for her husband's death from lung cancer has ended in failure.

A widow's 12-year battle to force one of the world's biggest tobacco companies to pay compensation for her husband's death from lung cancer has ended in failure.

Margaret McTear, 60, launched her historic bid against Imperial Tobacco in 1993 as her husband, Alfred, who smoked 60 cigarettes a day, lay dying in the family home in Glasgow.

She argued that the company knew that cigarettes kill and that they hid this information from the general public for as long as they could, condemning thousands of people to an early and preventable death.

She sued Imperial for £500,000, but insisted that the case was not about the money but the principle.

The case was the first of its kind to reach a supreme court anywhere in Europe and scores of other potential litigants were anxiously awaiting the outcome. Smokers in the US and Italy have successfully sued tobacco companies. But yesterday, on World No Smoking Day, the judge, Lord Nimmo Smith, ruled that Mrs McTear and her legal team had failed to find the company liable for his death.

The case was heard in 2003 and it took the judge 15 months to write his 350,000-word ruling.

Mrs McTear admitted she had not expected to win. Speaking outside the Court of Session in Edinburgh, she said: "I'm a bit disappointed but all the publicity over the years has highlighted the dangers of smoking and that's a victory in itself."

Her solicitor, Cameron Fyfe, said the case might have been won if Mrs McTear had been granted legal aid. Her lawyers eventually took the case forward on a no-win, no-fee basis. Mr Fyfe said: "It's always difficult for us without legal aid, whereas Imperial Tobacco have the funds. If we'd had legal aid it might have been a different decision."

Alfred McTear, who had three children, started smoking in 1964, when there were no warnings on cigarette packets, and by the time they appeared in 1971 he was addicted.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1992 and died, aged 48, in 1993, having given evidence for the case from his sick bed seven days before his death. It emerged during the case that he had a criminal past and had attacked his wife and children during drinking binges.

The judge rejected the case on every count, saying that Mr McTear would have been aware of the dangers of smoking and had chosen to ignore them, "as with many other aspects of his life". He said: "I am satisfied that at all material times, and in particular by 1964, the general public in the United Kingdom ... were aware of the health risks associated with smoking."

Imperial Tobacco said it hoped the decision would deter others from making similar claims.

The director of Cancer Research UK, Jean King, said: "We are very disappointed by this judgment. It is time we stopped blaming smokers for becoming addicted to tobacco and started blaming the tobacco companies that actively promote their products."