Smear Campaign Involving Former MP to Cover-up Effects of Asbestos


New evidence has arisen that the late former MP for Rochdale Cyril Smith was involved in a failed smear campaign against journalists and a television company who made a documentary. This documentary involved a woman who developed malignant pleural mesothelioma thirty years after working at an asbestos plant.

Asbestos Mesothelioma

An MP's Involvement in what is now a Modern Public Health Scandal

The documentary was released in 1982, and was very popular at the time, with the Guardian praising the film. As well as looking at her life, it examined the health issues regarding asbestos. It explicitly linked asbestos with cancer, which was less heard of at the time, and was critical of the government for the lack of action on the manufacture and use of asbestos.

A Rochdale based company called Turner & Newall, which no longer exists, used to be heavily involved in the use of asbestos. Smith defended asbestos production in speeches in parliament using notes prepared for him by Turner & Newall, and became involved in the campaign to undermine the programs makers. What's interesting is that Cyril Smith held shares in the company, and whilst normal company shares fell drastically after the documentary, Smith’s shares allegedly gained ten times their value.

The campaign mainly targeted the journalists who were involved in the research and production of the TV show. Also the target was the firm who produced the show, Yorkshire Television, now ITV Yorkshire. Evidence shows that someone looked into the private lives of the journalists involved, and made attempts to ban overseas broadcasts of the documentary.

Did it Have to Take so Long?

Fortunately, the smear campaign was largely unsuccessful, due to the fact that the government introduced stricter regulation regarding asbestos within months of the documentary being broadcast. Yorkshire Television also won the Broadcasting Press Guild Award in 1983.

It did however take an extraordinarily long time for the government to take action on asbestos, due to the large amount of lobbying by asbestos producers and users, Turner & Newall among them. Other harmful substances have been controlled on the basis of less evidence of harm.

The health effects of asbestos could potentially have been known since the 1st century, though early records will not show a link to mesothelioma, as the asbestos related cancer takes up to 50 years to develop. Large amounts of evidence of its use and effects are available from the beginning of the 20th Century.

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