Sheffield Family Reveal How Both Parents Died Of Mesothelioma After Working At Same Factory
When Dennis Cockman started experiencing shoulder and back pain he feared what was to come.
Hospital appointments, a diagnosis of asbestos-related cancer, chemotherapy and ultimately a painful death lived out for him, just as it had for his wife Carol.
For the couple were among the dozens of workers who continue to be struck by the ‘Craven’s curse’. Sheffield’s railway carriage maker has long gone but its legacy, like hundreds of major industrial employers across the country, lives on through mesothelioma, the form of incurable cancer linked to harmful asbestos which often develops decades after exposure.
Dennis and Carol’s children, who were supported by specialist asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell following the death of their parents nine years apart but coincidentally in the same hospital room, are now telling their poignant story to highlight the support available to families affected by the disease.
Maria, 51, says: “Because Dad worked with Mum and my uncle at Craven’s and they both died of mesothelioma and lots of Dad’s former colleagues suffered asbestos illnesses, he was always anxious about the disease. When he started experiencing the same pains that Mum had all them years earlier he knew what was to come.
“Nonetheless it still didn’t make it any easier when he received the news. It was a really distressing time for everyone and brought back lots of painful memories of how Mum had become a shadow of herself because of her cancer.”
Dennis joined Darnall-based Craven’s as a 16-year-old school leaver in 1959, originally as a coach painter. A decade later he moved to the engineering machine shop.
Carol joined two years later as a fibreglass technician.
The couple, who met at Craven’s after Dennis spotted her walking across the room one day, told their family how carriages would be insulated with wet-mix asbestos that would be sprayed on with a large industrial hosepipe and how the floor would be covered in dust and debris.
Carol left Craven’s in 1969 to bring up Maria aged 51, Michael aged 50 and Sean aged 40.
The first warning signs of the legacy Carol had been left with from her working life started to unfold in early 2004. At first she put her breathlessness and lack of energy down to getting older.
However, in March 2006, she visited her GP complaining of a dull ache in her back.
Carol was referred to Northern General Hospital, and following a number of tests, received the devastating news she had cancer that May.
She died in February 2007, aged 67.
Dennis started to experience similar pains in June 2014. As like Carol, a trip to the GP and subsequent tests and scans revealed he too had the same cancer.
As Dennis started the same type of treatment as Carol, he became more withdrawn. He stopped going to the Handsworth WMC he had visited every Friday since the age of 16.
His condition rapidly deteriorated too and he died, aged 72 in January 2016, in room six of the Northern General’s palliative care unit, the same room in which Carol had lost her battle with cancer nine years previously.
Michael recalls: “Dad’s diagnosis had a significant effect on his social life. It was as though he was embarrassed by his diagnosis.
“Every Friday, since being a teenager Dad attended his local pub. He had his own spot at the end of the bar. But following his diagnosis he stopped attending the pub immediately. He did not leave the house in case people asked any questions or knew that he was ill. He was a very private man and embarrassed to have cancer.
“We all noticed a change in Dad’s character, sadly. This was hard for Maria, Sean and I to comprehend.”
Maria added: “Dad’s death has had a profound effect on us all. We are a close-knit family and struggled to understand how both our parents had died from the same form of cancer. For one of our parents to die from the disease was bad enough but for both parents to die was unacceptable.
“We just hope that by revealing the pain that mesothelioma has caused our family and how hard it still is to understand why, others are aware of the support available to them and it reminds employers of the need to uphold health and safety standards.”
The family instructed asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help investigate how Dennis and Carol had been exposed to asbestos. Following legal investigations, Craven’s insurance company, admitted liability for their deaths.
Adrian Budgen, specialist asbestos-related disease lawyer at Irwin Mitchell has represented hundreds of families which have been affected by asbestos.
He anticipates the number of cases involving Craven’s that Irwin Mitchell has worked on is nearing 100.
Expert Opinion“The deaths of Dennis and Carol are yet another tragic example highlighting the effects that asbestos has on those who are exposed to the hazardous material and their families,” he says.
“Craven’s is not unique; there were hundreds of factories that were major employers in towns and cities across the country where health and safety regulations to manage asbestos were not upheld. As it can take many decades for mesothelioma to develop it is a tragedy that is still unfolding.
“That’s why it is so important that we work to get justice and answers for those who were exposed to asbestos.” Adrian Budgen - Partner
Mesothelioma is an aggressive, and terminal, form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, often decades before victims begin to suffer with symptoms. According to the latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 2,595 across the UK died from mesothelioma in 2016, an increase of more than 50 on the previous year.
The HSE say that widespread use of asbestos containing products in the past, particularly in the building industry, led to a large increase in asbestos-related disease in Great Britain since the Second World War.
It is predicted that mesothelioma deaths will continue to rise every year before reaching a peak in about 2020.
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in handling asbestos-related disease cases.