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Family’s Search For Ex-Workers After Former Smethwick Electrician Dies From Asbestos Cancer

Workplace Illness


The family of a former Smethwick electrician, who died after being exposed to asbestos, are appealing for his former work colleagues to come forward to help them in their search for justice.

Barry Halford worked as an electrician for West Midlands Electricity Board at their Smethwick site as well as Stafford based GEC Measurements and it is believed that during the course of his work he came into contact with lethal asbestos dust.

Mr Halford, who lived in Stafford, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the chest lining for which there is currently no cure, in October 2007.  He died just ten months later, on 30 August 2008 aged 76. Mr Halford leaves behind his wife, Meg and two sons.

On 15 January 2009, Andrew Haigh, the Coroner for Staffordshire South recorded a verdict of death by industrial disease.

Mr Halford’s family have now launched a search for his former work colleagues who they hope will be able to help them discover whether his illness was due to asbestos exposure at work. 

Initially, Mr Halford worked as an electrician at West Midlands Electricity Board from 1947 to 1957. Based at their site in Smethwick, near Birmingham, his job involved him carrying out wiring and maintenance work at a number of factories across the West Midlands and it is believed this brought him into contact with asbestos lagged pipework. 

In 1957, Mr Halford was called up for national service and joined the Royal Navy as a radio electrical mechanic.  After completing his national service, he remained with the Navy and proudly served his country for 22 years.

After leaving the service in 1975, he went to work for GEC Measurements (now Alstom T&D Protection & Control Ltd) at their Stafford site. He was employed to help develop the firm’s relay techniques for its fuse boxes. His work took him all over the world to the Sudan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East. He also spent time on behalf of the firm in Scotland working on a number of oil rigs.

It is believed that during this work, Mr Halford may have been exposed to asbestos which was present in the circuit breakers used in fuse boxes and also in the pipe lagging present on the oil rigs.

Mr Halford’s son, David commented:  “Being diagnosed with mesothelioma came as a huge shock to Dad and the entire family.  He’d always been such a fit and active man and in his earlier days he’d been a keen cyclist.

“He was particularly proud of his Navy career and the service he had given to Queen and country. He loved being at sea.

“Losing him has left a big hole in our family but it’s been particularly hard on our Mum who has been unwell for some time. Dad was her main carer and they’d just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. His death has been incredibly difficult for her to come to terms with.”

Iain Shoolbred, a workplace illness expert from Irwin Mitchell solicitors, is representing the family in their claim for compensation.  

He commented: “Mesothelioma is a terrible illness which can develop many years after asbestos exposure has occurred. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos and sadly it leaves behind a legacy of fatal illness, with the death rate increasing every year and not set to peak until 2015.

“It is vital if we are going to continue to fight for justice for the Halford family, that people who have information concerning the working practices undertaken at both WMEB between 1947 and 1957 and GEC Measurements (now Alstom) from 1975 to 1967, come forward to assist us with our enquiries. 

“These two sites would have employed thousands of men and women over the years and it would be helpful to speak with anyone who may have information.”

Anyone who worked with Barry Halford and/or worked at WMEB or GEC should contact Iain Shoolbred at Irwin Mitchell solicitors via iain.shoolbred@irwinmitchell.com or on 0370 1500 100.