The Uses of a Crane

On a BA flight to Tehran I find myself next to a businessman from the North of England. We start to talk. He is a thoroughly decent young man with a difficult mission.

He is going to a meeting with a junior Minister in the Iranian Foreign Office. He has never been to Iran before and understandably is extremely nervous.

He is visiting because of a photograph three weeks earlier in the London Times, of the execution of a rapist in the main square of Tehran. By English standards the method is crude. They put his head in a noose, attach the rope to the jib of a crane, and then rev the crane and raise the jib. No long and merciful drop for a rapist in the Islamic Republic. It takes two or three minutes for his kicking to stop. In the old English expression, he was well hung.

The business problem is that the manufacturer’s name is picked out in huge black letters on the yellow body of the crane THWAITES. My young friend has a script from the directors. It is easy to draft something in the boardroom, but altogether more difficult to deliver it to the regime in Tehran. He has been told not to deviate from the script.

He is going to protest in the strongest possible terms, to tell the Iranian theocracy that their laws are barbaric, their human rights record an international disgrace. And they most certainly are not allowed to use the crane to hang a man.

To my mind this meeting is potentially dangerous for him. He needs to be careful what he says. I ask if I may give him two pieces of advice, one legal, and one commercial.

The legal advice is that the execution was unquestionably lawful, by due process of Iranian law, and so their use of the crane was also lawful – unless the terms of sale say that the crane cannot be used in a public execution? The commercial advice is to ensure that on cranes they sell to Iran in future their name is painted out.

By the time we arrived I think I persuaded him to ring his bosses, cancel the meeting and take the next flight back to London.

We did not exchange cards and I never saw or heard from him again. I did not see him or his cranes in the Times again, either.

Chris Thorpe

Chris Thorpe is a respected independent lawyer in the upstream oil and gas industry, and an established lecturer and author. Chris has a LLB in law from Magdalene College, Cambridge and trained as a barrister in London. He worked for eight years' as an in-house lawyer for BP and Marathon. Since 1991, Chris has run his own upstream legal practice, CPTL, which has acted for many upstream clients. He has extensive experience of international upstream transactions, principally in the North Sea, the FSU, Africa and the Middle East. Chris has spoken at many UK and International Conferences and Seminars, both public and in-house. His most popular current lecture is Fundamental of Upstream Petroleum Agreements, a two-day course with accompanying book.