West Midlands Cyanide dumping#1- “the deadly barrels”

Back in the early 1970’s a rash of chemical flytipping became national news- with the most notable cases occurring in areas of The West Midlands. The main chemical of concern was sodium cyanide, probably one of the best known poisons to members of Jo public.

The chemical is toxic by skin absorption through open wounds, by ingestion, and by inhalation of dust. It is however less poisonous than white phosphorus, which is highly ironic given that the shiesters of Oldbury were allowed to not only deposit their dumpings of this chemical under water at rattlechain lagoon, but also very often around it to catch fire in the open air.

Given that not only is this cyanide as well as the closely related potassium cyanide highly poisonous, it also reacts badly with other chemicals to form poisonous gases. You can therefore probably appreciate why the authorities were worried at this point in time as to what might happen if widespread dumping of drums of this chemical were turning up in public places.

The following information is given by The Health Protection Agency, now Public health England

Sodium/Potassium Cyanide General information.

Sodium/Potassium Cyanide Incident management.

A flurry of cyanide dumping cases resulted in the drafting of “The Deposit of Poisonous Wastes Act” passed in just 10 days in 1972. The most notable of these occurred in Nuneaton at a (surprise surprise) , an abandoned brickworks site which included a children’s playground. 36 drums containing one and a half tonnes of Cyanide ash waste were recovered. This in theory would be enough to kill millions of people.

The front page of The Daily Mirror 25th February 1972

It quickly became apparent that a company mark found on the drums belonged to a Coventry firm Precise Heat Treatment. The culprits initially pleaded not guilty , as reported in the Coventry Evening Telegraph on 26th February 1972.

A few things emerge from this first article.

  • The “firm” in the spotlight if you could even call it that was run by one man with one employee.
  • A multitude of “companies” appear to have had some hand in the dubious operations of removing waste.
  • The drums contained a 20 per cent residue of sodium cyanide

A subsequent headline from the same paper on 8th June reveals that the owner of the company and two other individuals were on trial for the dumping of the cyanide waste.


The two men John Monaghan and Michael Keeling were paid just £50 to dispose of the waste for another company. It is bizarre to hear that the so called “witness” for the prosecution was not fussed about where the two charlatons of the road were dumping the waste. Today he and his company would also face the prosecution that they should have here. The other defendant- Terrence Singlehurst denied aiding and abetting the two men for his “company”.

The two tippers were subsequently found guilty as The Coventry Evening Telegraph from 9th June 1972 reveals , yet it could be asked if the punishment fitted the crime and if the verdict had been applied equally to all parties involved in the affair. Keeling was fined £100 and got six months in prison for the dumping of the cyanide in two locations and also for being a benefit fiddler. His compatriot, also fined £100 and also a thief off the tax payer however had his six month sentence suspended.

It is difficult to see how Singlehurst was cleared, and today legislation WOULD have rightly found him as culpable for the crime as the two pillocks he had paid to dispose of waste from his joke of a “company”.

A further article from 4th July reveals that the fines of both men were subsequently halved at Crown Court- adding further downgrade to the seriousness of the offence.

This case saw the DOPWA come into force and the basis of the legislation was the placing of responsibility of the deposit of waste on industry. A maximum of five years imprisonment and unlimited fines for the dumping of poisonous, noxious or polluting waste was brought in. Unfortunately however as time would prove- it simply increased the rush to deposit poisonous waste under the cloak of legitimacy.

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