Widow of former Plymouth dockyard worker who died from asbestos-related cancer appeals for information

THE heartbroken widow of a former dockyard worker who died from an asbestos-related cancer is appealing to his former colleagues to help with an investigation into his exposure to the deadly dust.

Kenneth Strong, known as Ken, died aged 80 from mesothelioma, a cancer in the lining of the lungs, which is caused by exposure to the dust found in asbestos.

Ken, from Newton Abbot, died earlier this year following a five-month battle with the disease.

His wife of 56 years, Jean, age 76, began a battle for answers as to whether her husband was allowed to work in conditions without appropriate protection from the deadly asbestos dust which caused the disease.

Ken was 15 when he started an apprenticeship as a ships fitter at Devonport Royal Dockyard, from 1948 to 1959.

Before his death, Ken recalled working on various large ships including HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal. He would walk through the boiler rooms to access different parts of the ship which had pipework lagged with asbestos – they were often very dusty with the crumbling lagging.

He also recalled that he had not been given any protective clothing or information about the dangers of asbestos during his eleven years at the yard.

On August 31 last year Ken began to feel unwell and collapsed at home. Jean took him to Torbay hospital and doctors drained six litres of fluid from his lungs.

Medical staff advised Ken that he had suspected mesothelioma, but he was too weak to have a lung biopsy or any chemotherapy.

In the next couple of months, Ken lost three stone in weight and his health rapidly declined. He spent his last few days at the Rowcroft Hospice in Torquay where he passed away.

At an inquest at the Plymouth Coroners Court on May 21, Coroner Ian Arrow recorded Ken died from malignant mesothelioma, an “industrial disease” as a result of exposure to asbestos.

Jean said: “It was very difficult to watch Ken become ill as he was always very active and strong. It is an awful illness and one that affected Ken at such a rapid rate and to think that his illness stemmed from exposure to asbestos decades ago is hard to come to terms with.

“Ken and I loved to travel and explore new places around the world – we had only recently visited Delhi in India. We had planned to have a Baltic cruise in October this year but sadly I’ve had to cancel this trip.

“I hope with the help of Ken’s former colleagues and Irwin Mitchell we will be able to find some answers and secure justice for Ken.”

Ken left the dockyard to take a teacher training course in 1960 and worked at several schools across Devon, eventually ending his teaching career as well respected head teacher.

Phoebe Osborne, an industrial disease expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office representing Jean, said: “Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable cancer which causes so much distress to victims like Ken who worked in industries such as shipping docks – a trade where we know workers regularly came into contact with asbestos but were not given the appropriate protection.

“We hope his former colleagues will be able to confirm Ken’s recollection of how he may have come into contact with asbestos and whether more could potentially have been done by his employers to protect him from the deadly dust.

“The dangers and risks of exposure to asbestos dust were identified as early as 1948, when Ken was exposed to asbestos, yet all too often we see workers and their families who have been left devastated decades later because their relatives were not warned of the dangers or given the appropriate protection.”

Anyone who has any information about the working conditions at Devonport Royal Dockyard in Plymouth between 1948 and 1959 is asked to contact Phoebe Osborne at Irwin Mitchell on 0117 926 1549 or email phoebe.osborne@irwinmitchell.com.


THE search for answers for Ken comes as a report from the House of Commons Justice Select Committee confirms the government made a secret deal with the insurance industry to save them billions of pounds at the expense of the terminally ill.

Once mesothelioma has been diagnosed victims typically have months to live as opposed to years, and they normally need urgent legal advice to get compensation.

The Association of British Insurers has been shown to have had secret meetings with the government to agree their agenda, which the government has then implemented without consulting  the people affected by this terminal condition. This was deemed by the committee to give the insurance industry an unfair advantage.

The government did not disclose the agreement, which leads to further speculation that they are assisting the insurance industry as opposed to sufferers of mesothelioma.

The Committee stated that “the coalition has not been open or transparent and their approach has been unsatisfactory on a number of counts”.

More people are killed as a result of being exposed to asbestos than in car accidents. Asbestos related illnesses generally do not arise until between 20 and 50 years after exposure, and it is due to this delay that many insurers’ details are lost or not properly recorded.

Despite employers paying the appropriate premiums cover, the insurers are still able to avoid the cost of compensating the victims of this condition.

(From the Plymouth Herald)

August 25, 2014Permalink