Press Launch: “Defending the Indefensible” 

Report by Laurie Kazan-Allen



A packed Rochdale Town hall was the venue on August 12, 2008 for the launch of Defending the Indefensible, a book written by Geoffrey Tweedale and Jock McCulloch and published by Oxford University Press.1 This work, an “insightful analysis of toxic corporate crime,” details numerous examples of how global asbestos stakeholders corrupted the scientific process and colluded with national governments to protect asbestos, a substance categorized as a human carcinogen.


Author Geoff Tweedale addressing the audience at the press launch.

Rochdale, the ideal location for the launch of a book detailing the aggressive tactics of the world's asbestos lobby, was the birthplace of the asbestos multinational Turner & Newall Ltd. (T&N), the dominant force in the British asbestos industry. Using chrysotile asbestos fiber from Quebec, production began in Spodden Valley in the 1870s and continued until the 1990s; the 72 acre Rochdale site is currently at the center of a controversial planning application to build 600+ homes and a children's nursery. After four years of campaigning, many facts about the site have started to emerge; the development plans remain firmly on hold.

The crowded meeting watched the short film Mesothelioma – The Human Face of an Asbestos Epidemic. This was followed by an excerpt from Yorkshire TV's award-winning 1982 documentary Alice – A Fight for Life featuring T&N's Rochdale plant. Many people in the audience had worked at the asbestos factory and had lost loved ones to asbestos-related disease. There was a real sense of anger felt by people attending this meeting; they were outraged not only by T&N's attitude in the 1980s but also by current development plans for the site of what had once been the world's largest asbestos textile factory. A question was heard at the meeting: “who made the decision to zone this deadly asbestos factory as an 'area of opportunity' suitable for residential purposes”; what facts did Rochdale council officers rely upon to make this decision?

The audience was shocked by a presentation made by local campaigner Jason Addy which included photographs and documents demonstrating the early knowledge T&N had of asbestos disease and cancer. The daughter-in-law of Nellie Kershaw – the world's first attributed asbestosis fatality – was in the audience to hear how T&N refused to pay funeral expenses in 1924 to Nellie's grieving widower. A management memo on this subject chillingly predicted that to do so “would create a precedent and admit responsibility.” Documents from the T&N archives show that the first mesothelioma death occurred in its Rochdale factory in 1936. In 1942 a Rochdale inquest heard: “There have been so many of these cases in Rochdale that I must say I think the cancer was produced by the asbestosis.” Confidential company documents from 1957 confirm that huge amounts of asbestos waste were dumped and that the air surrounding the factory was even dustier than inside the factory production areas. And this was permitted even though the company knew “that the only really safe number of fibres in the work's atmosphere is nil.”2

At the Town Hall event, shocked former T&N workers vowed that history should not repeat itself, especially in the developing world where asbestos is still being peddled. There was unanimous agreement that there should be a worldwide ban on all forms of asbestos. In the 1960s, many Asian workers made their homes in Rochdale and worked at the T&N factory – many working night shifts and doing dusty work. Forty years on, too many are starting to pay the ultimate price, with their health and their lives. The connection with the sub-continent was brought home with a series of photographs taken of current exposure to asbestos dust in Pakistan and India. Rochdale's MP Paul Rowen was shocked by the growing use of asbestos in the developing world and was appalled at the part Rochdale had played in the ongoing tragedy:

“The looms and carding machines once worked at the Spodden Valley factory by Rochdalians were sold to India and Pakistan and are now being used there.Despite asbestos bans in the UK and other developed countries workers in places like Pakistan, India and China are still using a mineral whose effects are lethal. We owe it to them that they should not suffer the death that many in Rochdale have suffered.”

Commenting on what he had seen during the Press Launch, Rowen said:

“This (new) book and research together with the ground breaking documentary by Yorkshire Television released 26 years ago reminds us of the deceit and deception practised that hid the effects of exposure to asbestos.

Sadly today over 2,000 people a year are dying of asbestos related diseases many of them in Rochdale. We will be living with this killer for many years to come.

I will be taking this up when Parliament resumes and hope to invite Geoffrey (Tweedale) to the All-Party Asbestos Group to unveil his findings.”

It was a sad irony that the book launch took place the same day Scottish politician John MacDougall, the Labour MP for Glenrothes (formerly Central Fife), died from asbestos cancer.3 The 60-year old father-of-two started work as a boilermaker at an oil rig construction yard in 1964 before trade union activism led him into politics. He had surgery at Guy's Hospital in London in 2007 in an attempt to treat the condition of mesothelioma, an aggressive asbestos-related cancer. Unfortunately, he never fully recovered from the operation and remained chronically ill.

August 14, 2008


1 Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival, by Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale. Until September 30, 2008, the book can be purchased from Oxford University Press with a 20% discount [to get the discount quote SSPROM20 when ordering direct from OUP]; email: or see:

2 This statement was from a 1961 T&N document exhibited by Jason Addy.




       Home   |    Site Info   |    Site Map   |    About   |    Top↑