Widow Of Miner Who Suffered Mesothelioma Appeals For Information

Expert Lawyers And Devastated Family Join Forces In Battle For Justice


The heartbroken family of a former National Coal Board worker, who died after suffering from a debilitating industrial illness, is appealing for his ex colleagues to come forward with information to help specialist lawyers investigate whether more could have been done to protect him from the deadly dust.

Alan Heptinstall, died aged 72, in August 2010 following a five-month battle with malignant mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos.

Before his death, he told his wife Patricia that he believed he was exposed to asbestos while working for the National Coal Board at Thornhill Combs Colliery in Dewsbury between 1956 and 1966. Patricia has since instructed expert industrial disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell in her battle for answers.

As a coal face worker, Alan was responsible for digging coal from the mine and loading it into conveyor belts which took the fuel to the surface to be sorted and distributed.

He recalled coming into contact with asbestos regularly during his work and in particular, remembered asbestos lagging being applied to the walls of the tunnel. He told Patricia that he remembered dry asbestos then being sprayed over the mesh boards with a pressure pump by contractors while he worked in close proximity to them.

Before his death, Alan also told how he came into contact with conveyor belts which were so riddled with asbestos, workers called them ‘asbestos belts.’

Alan’s job entailed dismantling the belts, cutting and repairing the frayed edges and rolling them up ready for the next shift. The conveyor belts and mine cars used to transport materials also included brake pads which Alan believed were also lagged with asbestos.

Ian Toft, an industrial disease expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office representing Patricia, said: “Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable cancer which causes so much distress to victims like Alan who worked in industries such as mining - a trade where we know workers regularly came into contact with asbestos.

“We hope his ex colleagues will be able to confirm Alan’s recollection of how the National Coal Board may have used asbestos and whether more could potentially have been done by his employers to protect him from the deadly dust.”

Alan, father-of-five and had six grandchildren, first started to show the symptoms of mesothelioma in early 2010 when he began suffering breathlessness. In March 2010, a routine scan showed a shadow on one of his lungs and he had fluid drained from his chest to alleviate the pain he was suffering. Further tests confirmed he had mesothelioma, for which there is no cure.

His condition deteriorated quickly, he lost his appetite and a lot of weight, had trouble sleeping and needed morphine to control the pain he was in. He died at Wakefield Hospice on 24 August 2010.

His devastated wife Patricia, 74, from Wakefield, said: “It’s still incredibly hard to come to terms with the fact we’ve lost Alan to such a terrible illness and we all miss him every day. We were married for 52 years so I feel completely lost without him.

“He told me a lot about his work at the mine and said it was a tough job, very labour intensive and a really claustrophobic and dusty environment to work in. He said asbestos was widely used inside the mine and there was obviously no ventilation so he couldn’t help but breathe it in.

“I now hope as many of his ex work mates as possible will help the team at Irwin Mitchell investigate if more could potentially have been done by his employer to protect him from asbestos so we can finally honour his memory and get the justice we deserve for losing him in such a terrible way.”

Anyone with information about the working conditions at the National Coal Board between 1956 and 1966 should contact Ian Toft at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office on 0113 220 6235 or email ian.toft@irwinmitchell.com