PIP breast implant scandal: Victims visited by bailiffs

Defective silicone gel breast implant made by PIP - 2011 file picImage copyright Reuters
Image caption The PIP implant scandal affected about 300,000 women in as many as 65 countries

Women given faulty breast implants fear thousands of them may have to pay back compensation after visits by bailiffs warning them of legal proceedings.

German safety body TUV Rheinland was found liable for the global PIP implant scandal in 2017 and ordered to make payouts to victims by a French court.

The firm has begun an appeal and some 13,000 victims awarded compensation have been issued legal papers.

One victim said bailiff visits had left her with anxiety and panic attacks.

TUV Rheinland said it had been forced to send papers directly to victims’ homes as the legal team representing the women had failed to register with the court, in compliance with French law.

The implants were manufactured by the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) and in 2010 it emerged they had been made with substandard, industrial-grade silicone.

The scandal affected about 300,000 women in as many as 65 countries, including France, the UK, Germany, Venezuela and Brazil.

Image copyright Sarah Higginson
Image caption Sarah Higginson fears she will have to pay back thousands of pounds she received in compensation

Sarah Higginson, from Andover in Hampshire, was awarded an interim payout of £3,000 in 2017 for implants she had in 2008, leaving her with £2,085.48 after legal fees.

The 39-year-old said the visit by bailiffs left her suffering with anxiety and panic attacks and she feared if the appeal was successful money would have to be paid back.

“We had to wait years for the small amount of compensation we did get and that didn’t even cover the cost of the surgery and now we’re getting this treatment with people turning up with papers left, right and centre,” she said.

“It is causing long term mental damage. On top of that, it’s all the worry about what’s inside you and the long-term health implications”.

Stephanie Wendy Lee from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, had the implants in 2008 and has also been served papers from the French courts.

Image copyright Stephanie Wendy Lee
Image caption Stephanie Wendy Lee said more needs to be done to help victims of the scandal

She said: “When you actually receive this package it’s terrifying.

“It’s like having a court summons. You think, is a bailiff suddenly going to turn up at the house and take stuff away? Am I going to prison for money that I’ve been given through the courts?”

Stephanie said she believed the stigma of having a cosmetic procedure affected the way people treated the victims of PIP.

She said: “Because it’s a cosmetic thing, because you’ve had an implant put inside your bust, the majority of people say… ‘well you chose to have it done’.”

She is now calling for more to be done to help those trying to rebuild their lives.

Image copyright Amanda Carter
Image caption Amanda Carter, who runs a Facebook campaign group for PIP victims, said visits by bailiffs were ‘hugely concerning’

Amanda Carter had PIP implants in 2002. In early 2010 she started to experience extreme pain in her right breast and found the implants were leaking silicone into her body. She later had them removed.

Mrs Carter, 47, from Kettering, Northamptonshire, now helps run the Official PIP Implant Campaign (OPIC) support group on Facebook.

Her papers were delivered to an old address – something she said was also causing distress to other victims.

“It’s been hugely concerning,” she said. “A lot of women are concerned that a bailiff at their door means that they can come in and take their possessions and a lot of people have presumed they are there to collect.”

Image caption It is believed some 13,000 victims awarded compensation have been issued legal papers

TUV Rheinland, which was among the bodies that had certified the implants, was found responsible for failing to detect problems with them and ordered to pay compensation.

However, it maintains it was not responsible for what the implants were made of, only the way they were produced.

The founder of PIP, Jean-Claude Mas, was sentenced to four years in prison for fraud in 2013. He died in April aged 79.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Jean-Claude Mas was sentenced to four years in prison in 2013 for fraud

Cécile Derycke, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells Paris representing TUV Rheinland in France, said the company had “taken many steps” to avoid sending the documentation to the claimants.

“In French law people who are defendants before the court of appeal must either register counsel with the court, or they must receive the other party’s submissions through a bailiff.

“Unfortunately after more than a year of trying to avoid this – to avoid the costs and also the complexities for everyone involved – no lawyer had registered counsel for some of the claimants and so that’s why TUV Rheinland didn’t have any other choice but to send the documentation to some of the claimants, and the French lawyers for the claimants were duly informed that this would happen.”

The BBC has been unable to reach Olivier Aumaîtr, the lawyer representing PIP victims, for comment.

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