Lis­te­rio­sis: O’Sul­li­van to file crim­i­nal charges

The Star Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - LINDILE SIFILE @lindile­si­file

FOREN­SIC in­ves­ti­ga­tor Paul O’Sul­li­van and Foren­sics For Jus­tice (FFJ) plan to open crim­i­nal cases against Tiger Brands over the 180 lis­te­rio­sis deaths and 479 in­fec­tions.

O’Sul­li­van said he ex­pected the number of lis­te­rio­sis-re­lated deaths to in­crease to 500 be­cause of some cases slip­ping though the cracks of the pub­lic health sys­tem.

He based this on an anal­ogy of pre­vi­ous in­ci­dents that in­volved mass deaths. They would work with the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Com­mu­ni­ca­ble Dis­eases to fi­nalise the ex­act number of deaths and ill­nesses, he said.

The 479 crim­i­nal dock­ets would in­clude cases of at­tempted mur­der and cul­pa­ble homi­cide.

“I don’t believe the number of deaths is 180. It’s a lot higher than that. It’s a lot like the deadly fire that swept through Gren­fell Tower in Lon­don. The next day they said 18 peo­ple had died, but the fi­nal fig­ure was nearly 100.

“The ini­tial death toll at 9/11 in New York was thought to be 1 000, but the fi­nal fig­ure was just over 3 000. Peo­ple who are vic­tims to less known crimes tend not to re­port it. And in this case my es­ti­ma­tion is that the lis­te­rio­sis deaths could eas­ily jump to 500, be­cause of un­re­ported cases at pub­lic hos­pi­tals,” O’Sul­li­van pointed out.

The FFJ has set up a page on its web­site with a toll-free number, 0800 118 118, where fam­i­lies of un­re­ported vic­tims of lis­te­rio­sis can re­port cases or call the NGO.

Their ef­forts to open crim­i­nal cases will run to­gether with the class ac­tion that hu­man rights lawyer Richard Spoor is ini­ti­at­ing against Tiger Brands.

Two weeks ago, Health Minister Dr Aaron Mot­soaledi an­nounced that the source of the lis­te­rio­sis out­break had been traced to two brands of polony pro­duced by Tiger Brands’ En­ter­prise Foods and RCL.

Mot­soaledi con­firmed 180 deaths, but Tiger Brands chief ex­ec­u­tive Lawrence MacDougall main­tained there was no di­rect link be­tween the deaths and his com­pany’s pro­cessed cold-meat prod­ucts.

But last week the com­pany con­ceded it had re­ceived re­ports from the Health Depart­ment, con­firm­ing the pres­ence of the LST6 lis­te­ria strain at its fac­tory in Polok­wane.

The com­pany said it would ap­point an ex­pert team to iden­tify the causes.

O’Sul­li­van said MacDougall’s re­sponse was shock­ing and lacked em­pa­thy. He called for the com­pany’s board to be dis­solved and to re­sume on a clean slate.

It was un­ac­cept­able that on the one hand the com­pany was deep­clean­ing all its af­fected fa­cil­i­ties, but on the other it was deny­ing cul­pa­bil­ity, he added.

“The sheer scale of the epi­demic can only mean that there has been a cat­a­strophic break­down in stan­dards and pro­ce­dures, which has re­sulted in so many deaths, with hun­dreds more be­ing poi­soned.

“Such a pro­ce­dural break­down has to be crim­i­nally in­ves­ti­gated, and the FFJ in­tends to make sure that the rel­e­vant ex­ec­u­tives and direc­tors of Tiger Brands are held re­spon­si­ble.”

The com­pany said it was do­ing all it could to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion. “We ac­knowl­edge and recog­nise that we are deal­ing with a na­tional cri­sis which has im­pacted our cus­tomers, con­sumers and the in­dus­try. Tiger Brands wants to be at the fore­front of find­ing a solution,” MacDougall con­tended.


IN THE CROSS-HAIRS: The En­ter­prise fac­tory in Ger­mis­ton.

SEEK­ING JUS­TICE: Paul O’Sul­li­van says death toll could rise to 500.

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