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Former Labourer Devastated By Incurable Asbestos Disease Appeals For Information

Dad-Of-Two Joins Expert Lawyers In Battle For Justice


By Suzanne Rutter

A former labourer coming to terms with the devastating news he is suffering from a terminal asbestos-related illness is appealing for his ex-colleagues to help specialist industrial disease lawyers investigate whether more could potentially have been done to protect him from the deadly dust.

Frederick William Hawthorn, known to his family and friends as Fred, of Kielder Close in Newcastle, was diagnosed with the debilitating disease mesothelioma in March 2013 following tests and scans at the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Freeman Hospital.

The 76-year-old believes he was exposed to asbestos while working as a labourer at various firms in the North East, including Stanley Miller Limited, Light Structures (Whickam) Ltd, Fabricon  McAlpine’s, Anglo Great Lakes Ltd and Bowey Construction Ltd.

Frederick has now instructed specialist industrial disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell who are appealing for his former colleagues to come forward with vital information about the working practices at the companies and whether anything more could have been done my his employers to protect him.

The dad-of-two and granddad-of-four began his career aged 19 in 1956 at Stanley Miller Limited, which was based on Coast Road in Newcastle. He worked at the construction firm until 1974 as a labourer and particularly recalls refurbishing a large block of flats in Gateshead High Street.

He remembers being exposed to asbestos as the tradesmen he worked alongside cut and drilled large sheets of the material with industrial tools and hand saws. He also helped unload the asbestos sheets from lorries and transported them across the work sites. He also recalls removing old asbestos from partition walls and ceilings.

Between 1956 and 1974 he worked for Light Structures (Whickham) Ltd and Fabricon, who were based in Sunderland. The firms had workshops where steel was fabricated to form the frameworks for new buildings which were then erected on site and fitted with walls and roofs, usually made of asbestos sheeting.

He worked for both firms on and off for periods of several months until 1974 and was responsible for assisting with the fabricating of steel work, erecting  the buildings on sites and  for installing walls and roofs made from asbestos.

Frederick then worked as a labourer for McAlpine’s from 1980 to about 1983 where he recalls working at the Anglo Great Lakes plant in Newburn. He says he worked alongside the plant’s maze of asbestos-lagged pipe work, which was poorly maintained.

After leaving McAlpine’s he got a job at Anglo Great Lakes, in the plant’s section closest to the River Tyne in Newburn, where he was responsible for scraping scale off graphite blocks when they came out of kilns. 

Frederick worked for Bowey Construction Limited, a Newcastle based construction company between about 1985 and 1988 and recalls being exposed to asbestos dust whilst working on the refurbishment of ex Coal Board houses in Consett and on refurbishment work at the Tyne Journal Theatre following a fire there at Christmas 1985.

Roger Maddocks, a specialist industrial disease lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office representing him, said: “Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable cancer which causes so much distress for victims like Frederick who worked in industries such as the building trade where we know asbestos was regularly used.

“Sadly, many employers did not do enough to manage the risks of asbestos exposure despite knowing how dangerous it is. It is only right that people affected by asbestos exposure through no fault of their own are entitled to justice from their former employers and we hope as many of his ex colleagues will help us find out more about the working practices where he spent much of his career.”

Frederick, who retired on his 65th birthday in 2002, said he was never warned about how detrimental asbestos could be to his health.

He first started to show the symptoms of mesothelioma in December 2012 when he felt constantly breathless and had trouble walking. His GP referred him to the Royal Victoria Infirmary for further tests in March 2012, which was followed by a six-week stay at the Freeman Hospital where doctors investigated the cause of his breathlessness further.

Frederick, who has been married to his wife Catherine for 55 years, is now unable to walk without the help of a zimmer frame and has to rely on his family to help him with the DIY and gardening jobs he used to love.

He said: “It has been really hard for me and Catherine to come to terms with being diagnosed with this terrible cancer simply because I went to work almost 60 years ago to provide for my family.

“I remember working with asbestos a lot during my career - whether it was alongside my work mates who cut massive asbestos sheets with hand saws and drills at Stanley Miller’s, when I was responsible for installing roofs and walls at Light Structures (Whickham) Ltd or when I worked at McAlpine’s and Anglo Great Lakes where the asbestos lagging on the pipe work was old and crumbly.

“I was never warned about how dangerous asbestos could be to my health even though the jobs I had were always so dirty and dusty. I regularly went home covered in the powdery, white dust.

“It’s frightening to think I might not have long left and I hope my old work mates will help me get the answers I deserve before it’s too late.”

Anyone with information about the working conditions at Stanley Miller Limited, Light Structures (Whickham) Ltd, Fabricon, McAlpine’s and Anglo Great Lakes should contact Kirstie Wilson 0191 279 0136 or kirstie.wilson@irwinmitchell.com and Emma Crowther 0191 279 0094 or emma.crowther@irwinmitchell.com

Read more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise related to Mesothelioma Compensation Claims.