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Widow Of Asbestos Cancer Victim In Search For Ex-Colleagues

Expert Lawyers Help In Battle For Justice


By Helen MacGregor

The devastated widow of a retired Shropshire teacher, who died after being exposed to lethal asbestos dust, has launched a search for her husband’s ex-work colleagues at a secondary school and the West Midlands Gas Board, who may hold vital clues that will help her legal battle for justice.

Father-of-two William Jones, 76, from Oswestry in Shropshire, received the heartbreaking news in early 2011 that he had contracted the aggressive asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.

Despite bravely battling the illness for twelve months, William died on 5 March 2012 leaving his disabled wife Gwynion, who he cared for as she has arthritis of the spine, dependent on their two children for support.

In July last year, the Coroner for Shropshire recorded a verdict of industrial disease and now, with the help of specialist asbestos lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, Gwynion is determined to continue the fight for answers which William had begun before he died.

Kim Barrett, an industrial illness expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office, said: “When William first approached me for help, he had only just been diagnosed with this terrible illness and was still very shocked by the devastating news.

“As we delved into his employment history, it became clear that asbestos was present in the buildings he had worked in at West Midlands Gas Board and St Martin’s Secondary School in Oswestry.

“We deal with hundreds of mesothelioma cases every year and the hardest thing to come to terms with is that the majority of people now suffering from this fast-acting, terminal illness were negligently exposed to asbestos by their employers many years ago, at a time when the employers should have known of the dangers asbestos posed to health and should have taken steps to protect them.”

“William was aware that his long term prognosis was not good, but in the time that he had left he was determined to find out how he had become exposed to lethal asbestos fibres.

“Gwynion is equally determined to continue this fight for answers and to gain access to the care and support she needs and we believe his former colleagues may have vital information about the presence of asbestos and working conditions to help with this.”

When William left school at the age of 16, his first job was with West Midlands Gas Board, based at the South Staffordshire Mond Works in Tipton. Between 1952 and 1955 he worked in the company’s laboratory, collecting and testing samples of coal and other substances from different areas of the factory site.

Asbestos lagged pipework, which was present in all of the buildings at this time, may have been disturbed as workers constantly moved around the factory, carrying equipment.

William left the gas board after three years and later re-trained to become a teacher of Religious Education, and between 1970 and 1996 he may also have been exposed to asbestos whilst working at St Martin’s Secondary School in Oswestry, later re-named Rhyn Park School. 

During his time at the school, asbestos was removed from a roof in a corridor which was very close to the classroom where he taught.

Before he died William told lawyers at Irwin Mitchell that when the specialists were removing the asbestos from the ceiling, he remembered a number of boys climbed into the roof space and when eventually they came down, they were covered in dust.

The school underwent major building works in 1971 and he taught in a classroom near to where the work went on. The works were also where the buses used to drop the children off, so when he was on bus duty, he would have to pass the workers regularly.  

William, who had been married to Gwynion for 49 years and had a daughter, son and also seven grandchildren, first noticed that he was becoming short of breath in December 2010. X-rays revealed he had a build up of fluid on his lung and further tests revealed the shocking diagnosis that he had an incurable asbestos-related cancer.

Gwynion said: “William was always so independent, but in the last few months he became extremely weak and was in a great deal of pain. It was terrible seeing him like that and knowing there was very little I could do to ease his suffering.

“He was my main carer and did everything that needed to be done around the house. My husband didn’t deserve to suffer like this and the fact that his death was as a result of simply going to work to earn a living is a terrible injustice.

“William was a very religious man and he was not the sort of person to hold a grudge, but he was determined to seek justice for what happened to him and I owe it to his memory to try to try to finish the legal action that he started.”

Anyone who worked at either West Midlands Gas Board’s South Staffordshire Mond Works in Tipton from 1952 to 1955 or at St Martin’s Secondary School, now known as Rhyn Park School from 1970 to 1996, or has information about the presence of asbestos and working practices at these premises, should contact Kim Barrett at Irwin Mitchell on 0370 1500 100 or email kim.barrett@irwinmitchell.com

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to Mesothelioma claims.