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Devoted Widow Launches Battle For Justice After Husband Dies From Asbestos-Related Cancer

Industrial Disease Experts Appeal For Ex British Rail Workers To Get In Touch


The devoted widow of a British Rail maintenance worker who died from an aggressive asbestos-related cancer has issued an emotional appeal for his ex work colleagues to help industrial disease experts investigate why he was allowed to come into contact with the deadly dust.

Margaret Nunn, of Naseby in Northampton, believes her husband John came into contact with asbestos while working for British Rail between 1950 and 1955/6, where he was responsible for repairing the freight wagons at the rail station yard in nearby Market Harborough. 

The 70-year-old has instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell in her bid to get justice for her late husband, who died on 18 January 2012 aged 80 from the debilitating disease mesothelioma, which is linked to asbestos exposure.

David Cass, an industrial illness expert at Irwin Mitchell representing Margaret, said: “Mesothelioma is a devastating illness which can be very distressing for the victims and their families. More than 2,000 people die from asbestos-related illnesses every year despite the fact employers knew about its dangers, even in the 1950s. Although it can take decades from the initial exposure for the illness to take hold, once diagnosed it can be very aggressive and painful.

“We would like to hear from anyone who worked with John at British Rail in the 1950s so that we can help Margaret get the justice she deserves for her late husband and to help raise awareness about this life-threatening disease.”

John first complained to his GP about feeling breathless in September 2009. He was referred to the Glenfield Hospital in Leicester for further tests a month later and was eventually diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 2010.

He tried to carry on enjoying his gardening hobby alongside his wife, carrying on a 35-year tradition opening their prized garden to visitors for charity, but by September 2010 he was reliant on oxygen every day as the cancer took hold.

Margaret, who was married to John for 36 years, said: “John’s diagnosis came as a terrible blow, we were absolutely devastated, particularly as we knew the cancer was terminal and so aggressive.

“He was a wonderful husband and I don’t think I’ll ever get over losing him to such a horrible disease. The mesothelioma robbed him of his health and the ability to enjoy life – in the early days he used to love fishing at Grafham Water in Rutland, playing dominoes and was an avid racehorse fan.

He couldn’t tend the garden anymore or exhibit his begonias, which he won many cups and medals for, including the RHS Silver Gilt Medal.

“Now I hope Irwin Mitchell and I can get John the justice he deserves with the help of his ex work colleagues.

“John worked on all the repair and maintenance jobs on the wagons at the British Rail depot, which involved replacing wooden planks which made up the floors and walls of the wagons and also the chassis which the wagons ran on.

Another common job he did was repairing parts of freight wagons, which he and his work mates called ‘axle boxes’ or ‘hot boxes’ because they often burst into flames when they overheated.

“He said the axle boxes contained brakes which were lined with a white, powdery material he believed was asbestos. If John was removing and replacing asbestos brake linings from the wagons he would have breathed in the asbestos without realising how dangerous it was to his health.

“He certainly was never warned about how dangerous asbestos was at the time and nobody had protective clothing or masks to wear – they just got on with their job.”

Anyone with information about the working conditions at British Rail should contact David Cass at Irwin Mitchell on 0114 274 4559 or email david.cass@irwinmitchell.com.