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Four York Inquests In One Day Highlight The Devastating Impact Of Asbestos

Coroner Confirms Victims Died Of Mesothelioma


A Yorkshire industrial illness expert says more must be done to highlight the devastating effect of exposure to asbestos – after representing the families of four mesothelioma victims in inquests at York Coroner’s Court yesterday (24 August).

Ian Toft, a Solicitor in the Industrial Illness team at Irwin Mitchell, says that the nature of each victim’s exposure to asbestos, which occurred in vastly different circumstances, underlines the widespread dangers of asbestos.

At all four inquests today Coroner Donald Coverdale confirmed that each victim died as a result of malignant mesothelioma – an incurable lung cancer which develops after exposure to asbestos.

These victims include Connie Spence, from Acomb, who believed she was exposed to asbestos after working at a shop immediately opposite the York Carriage Works. The latter has a history of exposing its employees to asbestos.

Mrs Spence, who died, aged 80, in October 2010, believed that she developed mesothelioma as a result of secondary exposure to asbestos, as men from the Carriage Works used to regularly enter the shop covered in dirt and dust from the factory. She also worked at various branches of retail store Boots, and could also have been exposed to asbestos during renovation works at the stores.

Her husband, Norman, who was married to Connie for almost 60 years, said: “We were absolutely heartbroken when Connie was told she had contracted mesothelioma. She had become short of breath for a few weeks, but we expected it to be a chest infection or something similar.

“Connie lived and worked around the York Carriage Works for most of her life, so it’s possible she came into contact with asbestos in the dirt and dust from workmen’s overalls. One of the stores she worked at for Boots, on Coney Street in York, also underwent a major renovation while she was working there.

“Mesothelioma is a horrible illness, and was horrendous having to watch Connie’s condition deteriorate knowing there was nothing we could do to help her. It makes it even worse to know that she never worked directly with asbestos.”

It was also confirmed today that former World War Two veteran Alfred Barker, from New Earswick, died from malignant mesothelioma in February.

Mr Barker, who was 86 when he died, believed he was exposed to asbestos directly while working as a builder for Sorrell Ltd. He worked at the company, an established building firm based in Layerthorpe, from 1946 until the mid 1960s.

The Coroner also heard details of two other mesothelioma victims whose families were represented by Irwin Mitchell at inquest today, including those of a painter who spent most of his working life at the Rowntree’s factory in York.

The inquests also examined the death of Stanley Gee, from York, who died aged 71, and believed he was exposed to asbestos while working as a plumber at JH Shouksmiths Limited in the 1960s.

Toft said: “Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive cancer which causes a great deal of suffering to its victims. Unfortunately it still remains incurable, and makes asbestos is the biggest occupational killer of all time.

“Asbestos has long been associated with heavy industry, including sites like the York Carriage Works, but sadly we are seeing an increasing number of people being affected who have not worked directly with asbestos, such as those like Connie.

“Every day at Irwin Mitchell we work with people whose lives have been ruined by occupational diseases. It’s devastating to watch the effect illnesses such as mesothelioma have on our clients both physically and mentally. We are often able to recover the cost of their care and lost earnings, but this can never turn the clock back.”