Let the Devil Wear Black

James F Linden. The true story of the Courtaulds Cancer-Gas Scandal.



James F Linden's book Let the Devil Wear Black is the real-life story behind the, Courtaulds Cancer-Gas Scandal in the 1990s which ended up with the Health and Safety Executive being sent in to shut down the operation.

Based upon many resources such as transcripts of covertly recorded meetings, contemporaneous notes and so on, perhaps the most important resource of them all is the experience and this story is told the way that I remember it.

Set largely in John Major and Tony Blair's 1990s, this is a true story of what happens when a company decides to act in an unorthodox manner towards one of its employees, one who has found out too much about too many things.

Is it:

  • The deliberate releases of toxic, mutagenic gases into the local environment;
  • The company's connection with South Africa's government during the twilight years of the apartheid regime;
  • Safety devices that are on plant diagrams but don't really exist on the plant;
  • The company's curious attitude towards the Health and Safety Executive;
  • Something else? Something that is worse, Something that involves everybody?

Following a tip-off from a source in the personnel department, Alan Rush decides to take the unique step of bugging his own disciplinary hearing — something that the company is totally unprepared for.

Surrounding a disastrous Industrial Tribunal hearing - where the company loses control of virtually every aspect of the case - The Guardian's / Private Eye Magazine's investigative journalist Paul Foot gains an interest that could only be shaken by a serious threat, there are suspicious deaths and a near-miss involving an empty lift shaft, telephone tapping, large-scale fraud, dirty tricks and so on.

In the background, there are always the questions of:

  • Who is bankrolling all of this?
  • Just what is it that Alan knows that the company is so fearful of? and,
  • Why go to all of that trouble when there are, after all, easier ways of controlling employees and the information they have than turning them into ex-employees with a thirst for justice.

In some ways, this story is a 'how not to' for companies who encounter this sort of thing — Losing control; never choosing a strategy that would prevent information spreading further out of reach; not stopping it all before it left the control of the company; and so on.

For lawyers, it demonstrates what you can be faced with when you are not told what is really going on — which, I would prefer to have believed was what was really happening here from the look on her face amongst other clues — the alternative interpretation, and in my opinion, not what was happening here, being that the solicitor herself was corrupt.

Of course, when you know that the justice system itself is put under undue influence, only the press has the power and at least the potential influence that is needed — shining the bright light of publicity on the parts that companies like to keep hidden from view.

The story continues with a serious safety issue with another company and what it is doing to the environment, catching some of the rats that fled.

The game was that there was no game so exposing it had become one of the goals — the more conspicuous, the greater the trophy.

Copyright © 1994-2023 James F Linden. All Rights Reserved.