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Widow of Former National Coal Board Worker Takes Asbestos Battle To Court

Lawyers Help Investigate How Dad-Of-Two Died Was Exposed To The Deadly Dust


By Dave Grimshaw

The devastated widow of a man who died from mesothelioma is one step closer to getting the answers she deserves as she takes her battle for justice to the High Court in London.

Frederick Swainston, of Longframlington in Morpeth, Northumberland, died aged 83 in October 2012 after suffering from the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma for 18 months.

Frederick, who was known as Fred to his friends and family, was exposed to asbestos during his 20-year career at the National Coal Board, responsibility for which has now been taken over by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. They continue to deny liability and that Fred was exposed to significant amounts of asbestos dust during his employment with them.

Before his death he told his heartbroken wife of 17 years, Alice, that he spent a lot of his time in workshops where he was exposed to the dust from his own work and the work carried out by the ‘lads,’ boiler washers and other labourers who used asbestos every day.

Roger Maddocks, an industrial disease expert at law firm Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office is now representing her in her battle for answers and has issued proceedings against DECC at the High Court.

Roger said: “Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable cancer which causes so much distress for victims like Fred who worked in industries where 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 those people affected by exposure to asbestos through no fault of their own are entitled to justice from their former employers.”

Fred began working for the National Coal Board’s Lampton, Hetton and Joicey railway Division as a ‘lad’ and was based at the Philadelphia Workshop in Houghton-Le-Spring. His job involved helping the boiler smiths and fitters carry out their work, including carrying large asbestos sheets to and from the warehouses.

He then went on to work as a boiler washer, where he was responsible for removing the asbestos bricks which lined the locomotive boilers and cleaning the asbestos debris with a high pressure hose. His job also involved working in an underground pit where he lined machinery parts with asbestos.

In 1950 he then became a guard and was responsible for marshalling the trains which delivered the coal supplies. In 1953 he served in the Territorial Army as a sergeant major for two years before returning to the National Coal Board as a senior guard in 1955, where he stayed for a further 10 years.

Frederick, a father of two daughters and a granddad-of-one, first stared to show the symptoms of mesothelioma in May 2011 when he began suffering from chest pain. He died at Rothbury Community Hospital in October 2012 after a 18-month battle with the disease.

Alice said: “It’s absolutely devastating to think Fred could have suffered such a terrible illness simply because he went to work every day all those years ago. His work was always so dirty and dusty, especially in his early career for the National Coal Board when he was a ‘lad’ or a boiler washer because he said he handled asbestos sheets, bricks or insulation every day.

“He said his job as a boiler washer was the worst as it entailed removing all the old, crumbly asbestos from the boilers and replacing the asbestos-coated bricks which lined them. He also had to cut large sheets of asbestos fabric to size to fill what he called ‘stuffing boxes,’ which lined part of the locomotives engine.

“He recalled working in underground pits and in confined spaces where there was little ventilation from the asbestos dust and he regularly used to come home with dust on his face and all over his overalls. He also said he was never given a face mask to protect him from the worst of it or warned about how dangerous the asbestos could be to his health.

“The whole family is absolutely devastated about losing Fred to such a horrible illness but we hope the court case will finally give us the answers we deserve.”

Anyone with further information about the working conditions of Locomotive Engineers  at the National Coal Board’s Philadelphia Colliery from 1943 to 1965 should contact Roger Maddocks or Emma Crowther  at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office on 0191 279 0100 or email roger.maddocks@irwinmitchell.com or emma.crowther@irwinmitchell.com

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in Asbestos claims.