A recent report has revealed that executives at the world’s largest asbestos factory employed spies to go undercover and report back on journalists, documentary makers and environmental campaigners in an attempt to hide the truth about the harmful effects of asbestos. In a shocking turn of events the executives then a mounted a campaign to accuse those involved in the report as being communists.
The asbestos factory in question was Turner and Newall, a company known to Boyes Turner solicitors as an asbestos industry giant and a common defendant in asbestos related disease claims.
Documents have now been uncovered showing that executives for the company, based in Rochdale, employed the spies to monitor anyone they considered to be an opponent to the asbestos industry and kept a dossier on their activities at the height of the debate regarding the safety of using asbestos in the 1980’s.
The documents also show that the executives employed disgraced Rochdale MP Cyril Smith in an attempt to discredit the producers of an award-winning documentary, revealing that asbestos workers were dying following exposure to harmful asbestos dusts.
The revelations also raise further concerns about Smith’s links to the asbestos industry after it emerged some years ago that executives at Turner and Newall wrote the speech he made about asbestos safety in Parliament.
A recent report in the Independent newspaper states that a letter dated 11 January 1983 in the Turner and Newall archives reveals that company executives even went as far as sending a staff member to an asbestos campaign meeting posing as a member of the public, simply so he could draft a detailed report of what he had seen and heard, a report which was then filed in the company archives.
The executives also employed spies to compile a “very confidential report” on researchers involved in the now famous Yorkshire TV documentary, “Alice: A Fight for Life”. This is a saddening story detailing the life and death of 47-year-old former asbestos worker Alice Jefferson, who was dying from malignant pleural mesothelioma, the most devastating of all asbestos related diseases. The documentary also set out to expressly link asbestos to cancers such as mesothelioma and criticised the Government’s lack of action in limiting the manufacture of asbestos in Britain, something which was of high interest to the company executives.
The executives went on to try and discredit the film by producing a secret report on the documentary researchers, on local asbestos campaigners who had assisted with the film and even on industrial injury solicitors going as far as listing their addresses, places they had visited, personal and professional connections and any political affiliations.
The final report on the documentary made claims that the documentary researchers were “communists” and claimed they would all “deny this if challenged”. A letter from the executive to Cyril Smith also stated, “I doubt if we will ever succeed in ridding ourselves of the Yorkshire TV ogre.”
The documents were uncovered in the archives of the company by asbestos campaigner Jason Addy.
James Cutler, one of the documentary’s researchers, told The Independent:
“We were certainly not Communists. I was never a member of any political party…We were journalists doing our jobs…Turner and Newall put together a lot of rubbish information…I never had a feeling that we were being followed, but we did feel when we went to Rochdale that it was a company town…If you were talking to a widow in one street, people in another street would knew what you were doing…Our motto while making the film was to leave no stone unturned and that’s what we did. Ultimately, the firm stopped using asbestos.”
Mr Addy, the Rochdale-based campaigner and PhD researcher who uncovered the secret documents told the Independent:
“There now needs to be a full investigation into Turner and Newall’s role in undermining the democratic process and its links with Cyril Smith…Instead of defending dying workers and their families, he went on the offensive to defend asbestos.”