A former civil servant is considering taking legal action against Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, formerly Inland Revenue, after she developed the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.

She is calling on other former Inland Revenue employees to come forward with any information they might have about the presence of asbestos at the Croydon 4 and Epsom branches between 1961 and 1996.

Helen Wickings, 65, from Surrey, started work with Inland Revenue at the age of 16. Apart from a break to have children she was employed there almost her entire working life.

Diagnosed with Mesothelioma

She first noticed symptoms before Christmas last year when she started to have trouble breathing. Over the holiday break her symptoms got worse and when she returned home she needed to have six pints of fluid drained from her lungs. In March this year she was finally diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable and ultimately fatal condition caused by exposure to asbestos.

With advice from asbestos specialists Thompsons Solicitors and the backing of her trade union, PCS, Mrs Wickings is now looking to claim compensation from HMRC, who she alleges negligently exposed her to asbestos.

She clearly recalls the first time she was exposed - between 1973 and June 1976 when she was working as a part time Clerical Assistant at Inland Revenue’s Croydon 4 office.

Her job involved doing filing on a regular basis and it was often necessary to take files to and collect files from the ground floor storeroom where archives were kept. There were high and very dusty filing racks in the storeroom, as well as dusty radiators underneath the windows.

Exposed to asbestos at work

Mrs Wickings worked at Croydon 4 again between 1988 and 1996 as a Revenue Executive. For some of this time she supervised staff who worked in the same ground floor storeroom and often worked with them. She remembers there being a fire in the storeroom that required it to be sealed for some time and believes this was due to asbestos contamination.

Mrs Wickings also recalls being exposed to asbestos as a Tax Officer Higher Grade (later re-titled Revenue Executive) at Inland Revenue's Epsom office between 1984 and 1988.

Her job involved going down to the boiler room to read the meter and order more fuel if it was low. The room was old and full of old exposed pipes. On one occasion she recalls hearing an alarm going off, and when she went to investigate she discovered the alarm was coming from the boiler room as it had become flooded.

She recalls that shortly after the flood, outside contractors were called in to remove asbestos from the boiler room. They brought a caravan with showering facilities which was parked in the car park and they entered the boiler room through the external access door which led from the boiler room out into the car park. The men were all wearing protective suits and masks.

Contact Thompsons with information on working conditions at Inland Revenue between 1961 and 1996

Mrs Wickings says her mesothelioma diagnosis has been devastating for her family, particularly her disabled husband Ernie, a retired civil servant who suffers from the effects of polio which he had when younger and for whom she is a carer.

“This has upset me and my family greatly,” says Mrs Wickings. “I am in constant pain down my right side and I am taking a cocktail of various medications including strong painkillers which I take during the night as well. I have also had four sessions of chemotherapy but these have not been effective and I am waiting on a decision on the next course of treatment.”

Thompsons Solicitors would like anyone who can assist with information about Mrs Wickings’ working conditions at Inland Revenue between 1961 and 1996 to contact Ann-Marie Christie on 08000 224 224.