Cyril Smith accused of being part of asbestos cover up
Reporter: Jan Harwood
Date online: 29 August 2008
The shocking revelation that Sir Cyril Smith lobbied for what was the world's largest asbestos factory, Rochdale's Turner & Newall, to help keep the dangers of asbestos underwraps, has been exposed this week.
An article in the New Statesman magazine reveals that Rochdale's former MP wrote to the head of personnel at T&N during a summer political recess in 1981 to tell him that the House would debate EEC regulations on asbestos in the next parliamentary session and asked what the factory would like him to say.
The letter reads: "Could you please, within the next eight weeks, let me have the speech you would like to make (were you able to!), in that debate?"
The T&N draft response is almost identical to what the Rochdale MP said in his house of commons speech, which stressed the need for less regulation on asbestos and that other products should be approached 'with caution'. Sir Cyril said: "The public at large are not at risk. It is necessary to say that time and time again."
T&N exposed millions to asbestos fibres in full knowledge of the dangers and used Sir Cyril to cover a truth that it had secretly admitted to in 1961, namely that "the only really safe number of asbestos fibres in the works environment is nil".
Today asbestos related diseases are responsible for 4,000 deaths in the UK alone.
Responding to what he said in his speech to parliament, Sir Cyril said in an interview with Rochdale Online: "I would not say I supported the the factory, support is a strong word. I portrayed what I thought were the arguments in their favour. I have dug up the speech and there is nothing in there that supports the factory, it puts their side of the story across. All that I was doing was depricating those who were calling the company into question as the town's main employer that employed thousands of people.
"At the time there were a lot of arguments against other companies but T&N were one of the better ones who had done everything in their power to help their employees.
"It's substantially true that I knew about the dangers of asbestos to the health of the workers because there were a lot of them fell ill at the time but T&N employed thousands that did not fall ill and they earned a living from the company. I felt that should have been recognised."
The revelations have shocked politicians in Rochdale.
Rochdale’s Labour Group leader, Councillor Colin Lambert, believes that if Sir Cyril was still involved in politics this would almost certainly have finished his career. “I really don’t believe that anybody thought that this would be Sir Cyril’s lasting legacy. This is a sad end to what was once a glittering political career,” he said.
Rochdale's Labour Parliamentary candidate Simon Danczuk commented: “Our MP [Paul Rowen] recently condemned those who tried to cover up the deadly effects of exposure to asbestos. Was he aware, I wonder, that a key person involved in this cover-up was none other than Paul Rowen’s self-confessed mentor, Sir Cyril Smith?”
Rochdale Councillor Ibrar Khan added: “The Labour Party has offered its full support to Paul Rowen on the work he is doing to reduce deaths from asbestos. But our MP must now acknowledge that many of these deaths could have been avoided if it were not for people like Sir Cyril Smith trying to hide the truth.”
Rochdale MP Paul Rowen was not available for comment.
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