The Public Records Act requires governmental departments and other public bodies to identify records with historical value and transfer them to allow permanent preservation with the National Archives or other appointed locations. Prior to 2013, this had to be done by the time a document was 30 years old. This ruling was changed in 2013 to reduce this time to 20 years. To catch up with documents affected by the change, the Government released documents from 1983 and 1984 in 2013 and last year released documents from 1985 and 1986.

A file closed in 1986 and released in 2014 by the Public Records Office in Belfast has revealed the pressure put on government officials by a large asbestos firm in the 1960s.

The company in question was Turner & Newall, a leading manufacturer of its time which was the first company to industrialise asbestos. The company is now defunct, following years of asbestos claims after it knowingly exposed employees to dangerous asbestos and using a PR company to help down play the health risks of asbestos.

In the 1960s Turner & Newall had a factory in Ballyclare under the name ‘Turners Asbestos Cement Co Ltd’ and the release file relates to this. In October 1969 the Ministry of Commerce visited the Ballyclare factory.  The visiting official, W McC Taylor, noted pressure from the company to use its products for Government contracts;

“The firm hopes to expand its sales of asbestos cladding by selling to the Ministry of Commerce…I was subjected to very strong pressure regarding this aspect of their activities”.

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Credit: Turners Asbestos Cement Co Ltd, Trafford Park, 1939 – Britain from Above

Later the same month there is a note from an unidentified official expressing concern at what appeared to be an undertaking to use asbestos cladding from Turner & Newall on projects in the future;

“I would have thought that, in view of the past history of asbestos cement sheeting, I would have been consulted before any indication was given to the firm”.

The official also raised concerns over previous problems with the products and “the numerous complaints which came from the tenants”. It appears that these issues were raised with the company however “Turners were not inclined to be very helpful” and the problems that were being experienced with the products were on-going.

In light of the above it would have been thought that the Ministry of Commerce would have ended any relationship with Turner & Newall. However, a month later Mr Elser from Turner & Newall contacted a further official, pressuring them to use the company’s product. The official, who cannot be identified due to an unclear signature, states that they were “impressed by his argument” and a commitment was given to test the material in a new factory. This is a complete turnabout from the opinions given the month before.

Following Mr Elser’s efforts, an invitation was sent from Turner & Newall for several officials to join them for lunch and a tour of the Ballyclare operation. Mr John T Dunwoody accepted the invitation, along with two other, unnamed, officials.

Just two days after the visit by officials, there is a letter from Turner & Newall stating that;

“it was a great comfort to know that the ‘hatchet has been buried’ and asbestos cement will be given a fresh opportunity by the Ministry of Commerce to prove itself on advance factories.”

Following the success of the Ballyclare visit, Mr Dunwoody was invited to visit Turner & Newall sites in England, at the company’s expense. The file shows that he visited a Manchester site to inspect asbestos products. Problems were raised in relation to asbestos cladding however the company was able to separate these issues from the operations at Ballyclare and so it would appear that the relationship between Turner & Newall and the Ministry of Commerce continued for some years.

Here are Asbestos Justice we have dealt with numerous claims against Turner & Newall and other large companies involved with the production of asbestos products.


If you, a family member or colleague are concerned over asbestos exposure, contact Asbestos Justice on 0800 038 6767 for expert legal advice.

 

 

 

 

 

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