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Inquest Confirms Coke Oven Worker Died From Industrial Disease

More Than 50 Coking Plant Workers From North-East Taking Legal Action Over Industrial Diseases


The family of a man who died from lung cancer caused by his exposure to dust and fumes during his work with coke ovens in the north-east are taking legal action against his former employers.

An inquest today (24 March) at Middlesbrough Coroners Court found  that John Leech, from South Bank, Middlesbrough died on the 31 August 2014 of “Industrial Disease contributed to by smoking ” after working in and around the coke ovens for more than 15 years at British Steel Corporation’s Redcar Coke Works.

John, who was known as Terry to his former colleagues, worked at the plant as a charger operator and was responsible for dropping coal into the ovens, as well as removing and replacing the lids of the ovens.

He told his wife Karen before his death that there was a lot dust and fumes on top of the ovens and regularly inhaled the fumes during his working day.

Over 150 former coke oven workers and their families from across the UK have instructed specialist industrial disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to take legal action against British Steel and British coal, as they believe the harmful dust and fumes employees were exposed to led to a number of respiratory diseases and cancers.

Roger Maddocks, a Partner and specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office representing Mr Leech’s widow, Karen, said: 

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“John worked for more than 15 years as a charger operator where he would breathe in the potent and harmful fumes on a daily basis. Many workers like John were put at risk of serious and terminal illness due to their working environment around the coke ovens.

“Sadly John paid the ultimate price and died from lung cancer, which was caused by his exposure to these harmful fumes a work. There are hundreds of other former workers who are suffering from terrible conditions and diseases simply due to the work they carried out on a day-to-day basis.

“They had a basic right to be able to go work every day and return safely, but the number of former coke oven workers suffering with serious and terminal illnesses, who we now represent, indicates not enough was being done to protect them.”
Roger Maddocks, Partner

Karen Leech, a mother of one from Middlesbrough, said: “We were absolutely devastated when we found out about John’s lung cancer and completely shellshocked when we were told it was terminal.


“It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch John suffer so much following his diagnosis and to find out his cancer was caused by the fumes he was exposed to at work, due to the lack of protection put in place by British Steel, was a kick in the teeth for John and our entire family.

“I hope that the legal action worker and the families of those who have died as a result of the fumes they were exposed to will ensure we all get the justice we deserve and answer the question of why more wasn’t done to protect my husband and others.

Anyone who may be able to help with information about the working conditions at Redcar Coke Works, or who are suffering with similar health problems after working at coking plants in the north-east, between the 1970s and 2010 to contact Katie Faulds on 0191 2790 142 or email katie.faulds@irwinmitchell.com

If you worked extensively on or around coke ovens and have since become ill, our industrial disease & illness claims solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Coke Oven Workers Compensation page for more information.

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