Secret industry documents have revealed that the world’s biggest asbestos factory ran a smear campaign in the 1980s against journalists and campaigners who were trying to expose the deadly consequences of breathing in asbestos dust.
An exclusive report, by Dean Kirby for The Independent newspaper, uncovered the historical documents that reveal executives from the asbestos giant, Turner and Newall, spied on journalists and campaigners who were trying to bring to light the dangers of asbestos. The company then launched a covert campaign to brand them communists.
According to The Independent, campaigners have called for a full inquiry into the company’s activities after accusing it of “decades” of espionage against campaign groups in the UK.
The Rochdale-based asbestos manufacturer Turner and Newall monitored people they considered ‘subversive’ and kept a record of their activities during the 1980s. The executives also secured support from disgraced Rochdale MP Cyril Smith. He tried to help discredit award-winning documentary makers who planned to reveal to the public how asbestos workers were dying from cancer, during a Yorkshire TV documentary, ‘Alice: A Fight for Life’. The Independent revealed that executives at Turner and Newall also wrote the MP’s speech that he made about asbestos safety in Parliament.
This was all at a time when the link with asbestos and cancer was well known by politicians and leading doctors. As early as 1898 the government’s factory inspectors raised concern about the “evil effects” of asbestos dust and by 1931 a Home Office survey found widespread asbestos-related disease in the UK.
Despite knowledge of the risks, commercial and economic factors took precedent over people’s lives and the general public were kept in the dark about the deadly mineral.
The broadcasting of the Yorkshire TV documentary, ‘Alice: A Fight for Life’, was a major turning point in the fight to highlight the consequences of breathing in asbestos dust. This was despite the efforts of Turner & Newell executives to discredit the film by producing a secret report on the researchers, local asbestos campaigners and industrial injury solicitors – listing their addresses, places they had visited, alleged connections and supposed political affiliations.
Dianne Yates, partner and an experienced industrial disease lawyer for Birchall Blackburn Law, says: “Hard working people will continue to pay the terrible price for commercial greed and government complacency in UK for decades to come. What is really scary is the fact that, while the UK has banned asbestos, there are other countries still mining and using the deadly mineral – and the asbestos industry is still growing in power and lobbying politicians.
“Asia is the biggest market, and the world’s largest asbestos importer, India, has a $2 billion industry with 100 manufacturing plants, 300,000 jobs and huge annual growth. The executives from this industry gathered annually for two days in luxury hotels to aggressively promote a message that they are serving the nation by providing roofs, walls and pipes to some of the world’s poorest people.
“The asbestos industry also continues to muddy the scientific and medical evidence that states any form of asbestos is a killer at any level of exposure. The pro-lobby uses favoured consultants and ‘experts’ to support the continued use of asbestos and the big business around it.
“To put it all in perspective, The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 125 million people around the world are annually exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and the International Labour Organisation says about 100,000 workers die each year from a related disease.
“History is repeating itself and millions more will die.”
The Independent (Tuesday January 5) ‘How the world’s biggest asbestos factory tried to stop campaigners exposing the killer dust’s dangers’