BP's Browne gives deposition regarding explosion

Marilyn Tennissen Apr. 7, 2008, 1:21pm

Lord John Browne

After two years of legal wrangling by Beaumont attorney Brent Coon, former BP chairman John Browne gave a voluntary deposition under oath April 4.

Via teleconference from London, Browne answered questions about BP's budget cuts and whether they contributed to the 2005 explosion at the Texas City refinery. The explosion killed 15 workers and injured hundreds of others. Coon represents many of the victims in hundreds of lawsuits against BP.

Coon told the Galveston Daily News that during the deposition, Browne said he did not know that budget cuts were causing infrastructure problems at the refinery before the disaster, but said he knew the petrochemical industry was under pressure to cut costs which led to the practice of deferring routine maintenance at plants.

Coon has fought to get the deposition for two years. BP lawyers said Browne should not have to testify because he had no personal knowledge of the decisions that contributed to the disaster.

At a press conference after the deposition, Coon said that while the deposition revealed no "smoking gun," it provided valuable insight for the several hundred lawsuits he still has pending, according to an Associated Press article.

"What it shows is that he was preoccupied with many things including the phenomenal growth of BP," Coon said in the article. "They were looking at where is our next business, what are we doing to grow, as opposed to how do we keep the things we acquired in a safe manner."

Browne was questioned by telephone for about an hour.

Coon took the fight to have Browne deposed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. Coon wanted to question Browne because he believed Browne had unique knowledge about how budget cuts and other company decisions contributed to the accident.

But London-based BP claimed Browne does not have any such knowledge and fought against the deposition.

In January, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Browne would not have to submit to a deposition without limits and approved a one-hour telephone deposition.

At a press conference after the deposition, Coon said that after the Texas Supreme Court's ruling, he negotiated with BP attorneys and quietly set up the deposition for Friday, April 4. Coon could not force Browne to give a deposition because he no longer worked for BP and lives outside the United States.

"When a refinery blows up and kills 15 people ... that CEO has a legal duty to give statements about what he knew and when he knew it," Coon was quoted by AP. "To try to hide from that is legally wrong ... is morally wrong.

A press release from Brent Coon & Associates stated the key areas of inquiry in the deposition were:

  • Browne's role in the alleged ordering of 25 percent worldwide refinery cost-cuts directly linked to the explosion and his personal awareness of unsafe plant conditions;
  • An explanation of numerous comments made by Lord Browne associated to the explosion and aftermath;
  • Browne's involvement in the numerous post incident internal and external investigations.

    A transcript of the deposition is expected to be released this week.

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