Victims diagnosed with mesothelioma often point to a lack of safety information, personal protection and asbestos awareness to the deadly health risks of frequent and regular exposure. Throughout the 1950s – 1980s when British industrial use of asbestos as an insulation and fireproofing material was at its peak, employers appeared to disregard the overwhelming medical evidence of the direct link to asbestosis diseases. In many cases, the aim was to ensure that no negative publicity should be leaked.

In some mesothelioma compensation cases a former employer or their insurer would deny all knowledge that they could possibly know that an employee was at risk of developing future mesothelioma as a result of sustained exposure at the time. Almost always there is a minimum of ten to fifteen years before the first asbestosis symptoms appear. In many cases, an asbestos-related condition might only emerge around thirty to fifty years later, long after a worker has taken retirement.

It is therefore, all the more disturbing when accounts of deliberate cover-ups come to light, which may have affected thousands of employees who were at constant risk of exposure and a fatal outcome.

Undercover campaigns

An investigation by the Independent newspaper reveals shocking evidence that employers at Rochdale-based asbestos company, Turner and Newall, deliberately engineered undercover campaigns to stop any negative reporting on the fatal affects of asbestos exposure. Just two years before the first UK asbestos ban was introduced in 1985, the textile manufacturer who first weaved asbestos fibre cloth with power-driven machinery at the end of the 19th century, compiled a secret dossier on anyone at their factory who they believed would discredit their business.

Among the secret company documents are accounts, which point to “decades” of espionage waged against campaign groups who tried to show the fatal reality for workers suffering from asbestos-related illnesses as a result of exposure at the factory.

In January 1983, executives at Turner and Newall 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. A “confidential report “ was also ordered on researchers involved in making a Yorkshire TV documentary about a 47-year-old former asbestos worker who was dying from malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Secret report… aimed to undermine researchers

In the film, a direct link was made between asbestos exposure and cancer, as well as highlighting the lack of legislation, which would limit the manufacture of asbestos in Britain. At the time, more than 45,000 metric tons of white asbestos was still being imported every year, and the truth of the fatal health consequences was still not widely known to the public. Protection of the asbestos industry was seen to be the reason why the government and even some medical spokesmen would claim that asbestos was a ‘safe’ material.

The secret report that Turner and Newall compiled aimed to undermine the researchers, local asbestos campaigners and industrial injury solicitors. The dossier listed details of addresses, places visited, alleged connections and supposed political affiliations. The intention was to claim that the researchers were “communists” or known for “left wing views”, all controversial allegations even thirty years ago.

The legacy of asbestos textile manufacture at Turner and Newall, which was sold to property developers in 2004, still affects the Greater Manchester community to this day. In 2015, after ten years of constant campaigning by local residents, plans were approved by the borough council to carry out testing for asbestos contamination around the 72 acre site. Previous reports confirmed that the site still contained tens of thousands of tonnes of waste asbestos.

An estimated 50,000 lives have been lost to mesothelioma in the region, and 138 people alone diagnosed in just one year. Between 2008 and 2013, there was a 55 per cent increase in the number of patients diagnosed with the fatal cancer.