Ex-Serviceman Battles For Justice After Wife’s Tragic Death

Inquest Returns Verdict Of Industrial Disease


A former serviceman has spoken of his family’s ‘shock and devastation’ as they continue to come to terms with the sudden death of his wife, who died of mesothelioma despite never having worked directly with asbestos herself.

John Todd, 67, was left distraught by his wife’s death and has vowed to fight for justice, turning to industrial illness specialists at national law firm Irwin Mitchell for help.

Helene Todd died aged 66, on 21st August 2010 just seven months after being diagnosed with metastatic mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer which had spread from the lining of her lungs.

It is believed that Mrs Todd developed the disease after being exposed to asbestos brought home on her husband’s work clothes – and he has now pledged to secure justice against his former employer, the Ministry of Defence in memory of his late-wife.

Mr Todd said: “The whole family was absolutely devastated when Helene received her diagnosis. It is heartbreaking to think that an everyday task such as washing clothes is what risked her health so much.

“When I was in the British Army I repaired and maintained vehicles. A number of them used asbestos in the braking and steering systems and also to provide heat resistance and fire protection. Dust from the asbestos would often rub off onto my overalls as I worked.

“As my clothing would get quite oily and dusty Helene used to wash a set of overalls for me most days. I remember her saying the dust would irritate her nose, making her sneeze.

“It angers me to think that my former employers, the MOD, not only put my life at risk but also the lives of my family – as a result of their actions my wife’s life has been cut short and she was so cruelly taken from us, after suffering such a horrendous illness.”            

Mr Todd served with the British Army in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for 22 years, with much of his time spent in Germany. He was a Class 1 vehicle mechanic and later a Staff Sergeant.

Whilst stationed in Germany between March 1968 and August 1979 Mr Todd was joined by his wife – it is believed it was during this time that she was inadvertently exposed to asbestos dust as she washed his contaminated work overalls.

Roger Maddocks, who was instructed by Mrs Todd prior to her death, said: “Victims of mesothelioma are innocent victims of a terrible disease caused through no fault of their own. Mrs Todd’s is a particularly upsetting case as she could only have come into contact with the deadly dust whilst washing her husband’s work clothes. 

“Although cases like Mrs Todd’s are still uncommon, we do see a number of cases where the victims themselves have not been exposed to asbestos dust through their own work. Victims who develop mesothelioma in this way may not have been heavily exposed to asbestos dust, or even exposed to it on an everyday basis, but even small levels of exposure can lead many years later to the development of mesothelioma with devastating consequences.” 

A verdict of Industrial Disease was recorded during an inquest into Mrs Todd’s death, in Carlisle, in May 2011. Mr and Mrs Todd were married in July 1966, they lived in Durranhill, Carlisle and had three children together.