Widow Of Asbestos Victim Continues In Battle For Justice Following Inquest

Hearing Confirms Exposure At Work


The widow of a former heating and plumbing engineer, who died from an aggressive cancer, is continuing her battle for justice after an inquest this week (Tuesday 24 May) confirmed that he had died after being exposed to asbestos at work.

78-year-old William Victor Panes from Tedburn St Mary, was diagnosed last June with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer of the chest lining and died just four months later.  HM Coroner for Exeter and Greater Devon, Dr Elizabeth Earland, today returned a verdict of industrial disease, saying that ‘Mr Panes had frequent asbestos exposure throughout his working life’ and that ‘on the balance of probability, mesothelioma was contracted by this exposure’.

Mr Panes, who lived and worked for much of his life in the Surrey area, was exposed to asbestos whilst working as a plumbing and heating engineer for a number of local firms in the Chobham  and Middlesex areas.  During the early 1960s he was involved with the construction of Chobham High School.

Helen Grady, a workplace illness expert with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors’ Bristol office, who is representing widow. Mrs Lesley Panes, commented: “This is a particularly sad case because Mr and Mrs Panes had moved to the village of Tedburn St Mary in Devon in June 2004 to enjoy their retirement and his death as a result of this cruel illness has sadly robbed the couple of precious time together.

“Mr Panes was a very talented landscape gardener and prior to his illness he had created the most stunning garden at their new home.

“Sadly in the last few months he was unable to tend to his garden and all the plans he and his wife had made, have been cut short as a result of this aggressive cancer. 

 “Today’s inquest verdict confirms that Mr Panes died as a direct result of being exposed to asbestos. On behalf of Mrs Panes we are continuing the legal battle for justice which her husband had embarked upon before his untimely death.”

Mr Panes was able to recall being exposed to large amounts of asbestos during his time with a company called Steers, based in Woking, between 1952 and 1961. Later, whilst working for T G Burn & Co Ltd, based on Hanworth Road in Hampton, Middlesex, between 1961 and 1981, he remembered having to mix up asbestos and cut through lagged asbestos pipes as part of his day to day work. 

Both Steers and T G Burn & Co Ltd have since ceased trading, as have two other firms Mr Panes worked for in the 1940s and 50s – Cheesmans of Chobham and Tarrant Builders’, Virginia Water, Surrey.

Ms Grady continued: “When companies are no longer trading, it is still possible to pursue a legal claim through the employers’ insurers. Since 1972 it has been a criminal offence for employers not to have insurance cover so it came as a shock to Mrs Panes that insurance cannot be found for the last company her husband worked for – T G Burn & Co Ltd - who were a going concern up until the mid 1980s..  

“Despite this setback, we remain determined to leave no stone unturned in our quest for justice and we currently have an insurance archaeologist who is trying to trace vital insurance information on the companies Mr Panes worked for.”

A new law has recently been introduced to help victims of asbestos related diseases trace their former employers’ insurers. The Employers Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) went live on 5 May 2011. 

Ms Grady added: “Whilst this is a positive step, there continue to be cases which cause extreme hardship and what is urgently needed to help victims like Mrs Panes is an Employers Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) to provide a fund of last resort for those unable to trace policies.”