How the world’s biggest asbestos factory tried to stop campaigners exposing the killer dust’s dangers
Executives at the world’s biggest asbestos factory spied on journalists and environmental campaigners who exposed the killer dust’s dangers and then launched a covert campaign to accuse them of being communists, it can be revealed.
Secret industry documents seen by The Independent reveal that the executives at Rochdale-based asbestos giant Turner and Newall monitored people they considered to be “subversive” and kept a dossier on their activities at the height of the debate about the mineral’s safety in the 1980s.
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They also enlisted the help of disgraced Rochdale MP Cyril Smith in a clandestine but ultimately unsuccessful bid to discredit the makers of an award-winning documentary that told how asbestos workers were dying from cancer.
Leading campaigners are now calling for a full-scale inquiry into what they describe as “decades” of espionage against campaign groups in the UK.
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.
Craig Bennett, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth, which it has emerged was listed in the Turner and Newall files, said the latest revelations are “shocking”.
“It is clear that as long as people have campaigned for a better world, corrupt sections of the elite have tried to undermine their activities and misrepresent their arguments. It is very clear now that there has been spying on organisations such as Friends of the Earth over many decades by government and commercial forces,” he said.
“It is shocking that business leaders who realised they were losing the argument on a vital issue like as asbestos resorted to these methods. There needs to be an inquiry into how public authorities and companies spent money investigating peaceful organisations campaigning for the public good in a democracy.”
A letter dated 11 January 1983 in the Turner and Newall archives reveals that executives had sent a staff member to an asbestos campaign meeting posing as a member of the public, who then sent back a three-page report detailing everything that was said.
The executives also revealed they had ordered a “very confidential report” to be made on researchers involved in a Yorkshire TV documentary, Alice: A Fight for Life, which told the story of 47-year-old former asbestos worker Alice Jefferson, who was dying from malignant pleural mesothelioma. The film, directed by award-winning film maker John Willis, explicitly linked asbestos to cancer and attacked the Government’s perceived complacency in limiting the manufacture of asbestos in Britain.Read the full story here
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