The widow of a Swindon man, Mr J, who died, aged only 65, from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma has received six figure compensation from his former employer.

Mr J was exposed to the deadly dust when he worked for the Swindon and District Co-Operative Society – now the Midcounties Co-Operative Limited – in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Mrs J continued her husband’s claim against his former employer after his death in June 2007. She was backed by his trade union Unite.

Mr J worked as an apprentice engineer in the Society’s transport department in Station Road, Swindon. He was responsible for maintaining mechanical and electrical equipment in the garage, dairy and bakery.

Boilers insulated with asbestos

The boilers in these buildings were insulated with amosite – brown asbestos – secured with chicken wire. Mr J had to remove the asbestos with his bare hands when the boilers were inspected once a year.

Once the boilers had been inspected, he had to re-insulate them using loose asbestos which he mixed to a paste with water in a drum. It was so dusty that he would go outside to stop coughing.

Pipes running through the bakery and dairy were also insulated with asbestos rope, which he had to maintain.

His employer did not warn him of the dangers of asbestos or give him protective breathing equipment.

Diagnosed with mesothelioma

He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in early 2007 and contacted asbestos claim specialists Thompsons Solicitors for advice about obtaining compensation.

The Midcounties Co-Operative initially denied liability for the man’s death so Thompsons started proceedings in the Royal Courts of Justice. The claim settled shortly before the trial.

Mrs J said: “My husband was a happy, outgoing man and was relatively fit and healthy. He played golf and walked for miles. Then in 2005 he developed chest pain and was off work for a time and then by Christmas that year he had some trouble breathing. He was not diagnosed with mesothelioma until 2007, by which time he was really ill. He was on morphine and in a lot of pain.

“He was understandably very frightened of his disease, his suffering and what was happening to him. It was horrendous how anyone could think of surviving in such pain. I looked after him until eventually he had to go into a hospice, where he died soon after. I’m very angry with his employer for not warning him and his workmates of the dangers of asbestos or even admitting it caused his disease. That is why I was determined to carry on his compensation claim after he died.”

Dangers of asbestos were known at time of exposure

Eamonn McDonough of Thompsons said: “The dangers of asbestos were well known by the time our client was exposed to it. There was absolutely no excuse for what happened. This is yet another example of the disregard of employers in the past having dreadful long-term consequences for workers and their families.”

Laurence Faircloth, Unite regional secretary, commented: “Nothing can compensate a family for losing a loved one to mesothelioma, but what we can do as a union is provide legal support so that those left behind are looked after financially. We’re glad to have been able to do that in this case.”