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Widow Secures Justice in Late Husband’s Memory

Whitburn Widow Speaks Of Justice Following Husbands Asbestos Death


A Whitburn widow has spoken of her relief after securing justice for her late husband who died because his former employers routinely exposed him to lethal asbestos dust.

George Combe, who was 69 when he died in August 2009, worked as an apprentice turner at John Brown Engineering Limited from 1956 to 1961 and would regularly inhale asbestos dust as he worked.

Mr Combe died just four months after doctors told him he had developed the deadly respiratory condition Mesothelioma. Prior to his death, Mr Combe turned to industrial illness specialists at the Newcastle office of Irwin Mitchell to help secure justice against his former employer.

Following Mr Combe’s death his wife Marjorie, 69, decided to continue the fight and has today said she is relieved to have won justice for her husband of 46 years.

Roger Maddocks, partner and industrial illness specialist at Irwin Mitchell, worked with Mrs Combe to ensure she has access to the financial security she needs to have as a comfortable future as possible following her husband’s death.

Roger Maddocks said: “Unfortunately this victory has come too late for Mr Combe, like many other Mesothelioma victims he did not live to see his former employers face justice for the unacceptable conditions which they forced their workforce to endure.

“Mr Combe did not work directly with asbestos but was exposed to substantial levels of the deadly dust when other men in the workshop worked on asbestos lagged equipment, through the workshop’s heating system and also when he would occasionally visit the factory’s shipyard.

“Had Mr Combe’s employers taken basic precautions – if he had been provided with respiratory equipment or had the factory had adequate ventilation – he could have been protected from inhaling the asbestos dust which caused his death over 50 years after he first came into contact with it.”

Mrs Combe added: “George was devastated when he received his diagnosis. In a matter of months he went from being a fit, healthy man, who was still able to work part-time and carry out jobs around the house, to receiving palliative care to help reduce his pain and to make him comfortable.

“It is unforgivable that companies like George’s former employer were able to expose so many of their employees to such a dangerous substance. Although it will never bring George back I am pleased that John Brown Engineering has been made to pay for what they have done to an innocent man who worked for the company.”

Mr Combe worked at John Brown Engineering Limited on the banks of the River Clyde from September 1956 to October 1961. He died on 28 August 2009 at St Clare’s Hospice where he was receiving palliative care.


Mesothelioma is a fatal cancer of the lung lining (the pleura) which develops as a result of inhaling asbestos dust. It can take between 10 and 60 years to develop after exposure to asbestos. Victims suffer a painful death, on average, within a year or so of diagnosis. 

Unlike other asbestos related conditions it can occur after exposure to minimal levels of dust.

Currently almost 2,000 people die of Mesothelioma every year in the UK. The number of people suffering from Mesothelioma is expected to increase significantly over the next 10-15 years.

65,000 people are expected to die of Mesothelioma in the UK between 2002 and 2050, and 250,000 in Western Europe by 2035.