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

Appeal For Southend Civic Centre Construction Workers To Come Forward


The devastated widow of a former Essex carpenter who died of an asbestos-related disease is appealing to his former colleagues who worked on the construction of a landmark public building in Southend to help in her battle for justice.

Malcolm Atkinson, known to family and friends as ‘Mike’ was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, in June 2009. Despite bravely battling the illness for seven months Mike, who lived in Leigh-on-Sea with his wife, Kathleen, died in January 2010, just one month after celebrating his 70th birthday.

With the help of specialist asbestos lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, Kathleen is now searching for people who worked alongside her husband at Gee Walker & Slater Ltd, or ‘Gees’ as it was commonly known, as they may have vital evidence about the presence of asbestos and working conditions at the firm.

In 1962 Mike worked on the construction of Southend Civic Centre, a major building project at the time, and was responsible for fitting the building’s 500 windows which took him almost a year to complete.

Before his death he told lawyers he remembered each window required a sill and fire proof panel, both of which were made from asbestos sheets. He had to cut the sheets with a saw and then fit them into place with a power gun.

Mike first became unwell in January 2009. He had just returned from a family holiday in Spain and visited his GP because he was worried that he had suddenly lost a lot of weight. Various tests, x-rays and finally a biopsy in June that year confirmed the devastating news that he had mesothelioma, an aggressive asbestos-related cancer of the chest lining, for which sadly there is currently no cure.

Following a seven month battle with the illness he died at Southend University Hospital on January 29th 2010.

He leaves behind his wife of 40 years Kathleen, and twin sons James and Carl.

Joanne Jefferies, an industrial illness expert at Irwin Mitchell’s London office, said:  “An inquest carried out at Southend and South East Essex Coroner’s Court on 25th June 2010, confirmed that Mike had died as a result of an industrial disease.

“However in order to gain justice for Kathleen and her sons, we need to hear from people who used to work with Mike who can provide further information about working conditions during the construction of Southend Civic Centre in 1962 and 1963.

“Before his death, Mike said that although he was exposed to asbestos on a daily basis. He was never warned about the dangers of working with it and wasn’t provided with any protective equipment to prevent him from inhaling the fibres.”

“The dangers of asbestos exposure are well known and even as far back as the 1950s employers knew about the risks.”

Kathleen said: “When we were told that Mike had an asbestos-related cancer which couldn’t be cured it was so hard to accept.

“Mike fought the illness for as long as he could. It was typical of him that, even after being diagnosed he still somehow found the strength to complete the refitting of our kitchen. It took him all his time and he had to keep stopping because he was so breathless, but he was determined to finish the job he had started.

“We had been happily married for 40 years and although he was very unwell towards the end, we managed to celebrate one last Christmas together as well as Mike’s 70th birthday on 28th December.

“My husband had worked hard all his life and its so upsetting that this terrible industrial illness took him from me far too soon and has robbed me of the precious time we should have been able to spend together as a couple.”

Anyone who worked at Gee Walker & Slater Ltd, alongside ‘Mike’ (Malcolm) Atkinson on the construction of Southend Civic Centre during the early 1960s should contact Joanne Jefferies at Irwin Mitchell on 0370 1500 100 or email: joanne.jefferies@irwinmitchell.com