Victims boo PIP implant founder

PIP boss Jean-Claude Mas faces five years in jail if convicted. Photo / AP
PIP boss Jean-Claude Mas faces five years in jail if convicted. Photo / AP

The man at the centre of the global scandal over faulty breast implants faced the fury of hundreds of thousands of women yesterday as his trial opened in Marseille.

Jean-Claude Mas, 73, the founder of the French firm Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), whose leaky implants were sold to 47,000 British women, 30,000 French women and more than 250,000 others around the world, faced some of his accusers for the first time.

He and four of his senior staff are on trial for aggravated fraud and face up to five years in jail and a €37,500 ($58,000) fine if convicted.

Scores of women are due to give evidence. A total of 5127 victims have joined the action as civil parties and are being represented by about 300 lawyers.

PIP, once the world's third-largest supplier of breast implants, is accused of cutting costs for 10 years by using an illegal home-made mixture of industrial-grade and agricultural silicone not fit for use on humans.

The company hid evidence of the non-medical silicone during visits by European inspectors who approved the implants. Use of the illegal silicone saved the company €1 million a year - it cost €5 a litre, seven times cheaper than standard gel.

Mas has previously admitted lying about the gel he used, but denied that the substandard implants posed any health risks, dismissing the complainants as "fragile people, or people who are doing this for money".

Boos erupted and one person shouted "bastard" as the PIP founder stood up to declare his earnings - a monthly pension of less than €1800. His company has declared bankruptcy, which means he will escape paying compensation to implant victims, who can expect a maximum of €4179 from a state fund.

One of the plaintiffs, Jan Spivey, 50, from London, received PIP implants as part of reconstructive surgery in 2002 following breast cancer. She had the implants removed and replaced on the NHS after a long battle last August.

"Jean-Claude Mas has made me along with many other women suffer hugely, spreading torment," she said.

"I actually regard him as a terrorist and can't think of any criminal behaviour directed against women on this scale ever."

She said she hoped that the trial would see "those responsible for an international health crisis brought to account".

In the dock with Mas are four other executives who worked at PIP before the scandal erupted in 2010. All deny wrongdoing.

The scandal emerged after surgeons warned authorities that there was an abnormally high rupture rate among PIP implants. Soon afterwards, the company was closed and its products taken off the market.

In December 2011, the French Health Ministry advised women with PIP implants to have them removed as a precaution, saying that, while there was no proven cancer risk, they could rupture.

Last year, medical experts in Britain concluded that the substandard gel did not pose a significant risk to women's health in the long term. However, Spivey said she hoped the trial would "shame" the British Government into offering more support to victims.

"Britain is hopelessly out of step with the rest of the world and with France in particular," she said.

"[British] Government policy says there is no urgent need to have ruptured PIP implants removed, that there is no indication of any inflammatory responses, that patient reported symptoms aren't helpful and there's no point in doing any testing.

"We found that particularly scandalous and the consequence is that there are very few women who have actually been offered treatment by the NHS."

About half the 30,000 French women given PIP implants have had them removed. Only 607 women in Britain have had them removed by the NHS.

- Telegraph Group Ltd

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