Asbestos widow launches legal fight

A WIDOW, whose battle to discover the truth about her husband's death shortly after retirement ended with the dread news he died of asbestosis, is suing his former employers.

A WIDOW is suing her husband's former employers after a battle to discover the truth about her husband's death ended with the news he died of asbestosis.

Margaret Wheatley insisted on tests to find an answer to the ill health that had plagued her husband for the last few years of his life.

Mr and Mrs Wheatley, who married in Lancashire, became senior foreman at the Middleton Sheet Metal Company there from 1948 to 1965 - apart from two years doing his national service in the RAF.

Yet little did his wife know that the dusty substance the company used to pack into the insulation panels it manufactured was blue asbestos.


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Mr Wheatley's career in industry took him from the north of England to Essex in 1971 when he became works director of Woods of Colchester, and the family settled in East Bergholt.

In 1994 Mr Wheatley was sent to hospital after suffering a very bad chest infection. It was thought he had condition that scarred the lungs.

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Mrs Wheatley, 66, said: "I didn't realise the seriousness of this illness until after the post mortem and I then found out from his medical notes after he died that the doctor had asked whether Frank had ever worked with asbestos."

Her husband was referred to Papworth hospital for tests in preparation for a lung transplant but he avoided answering questions about asbestos.

Mr Wheatley finally retired from work in 1997 just before his 65th birthday. Within another 12 months he would be dead.

It was a chance remark from a pathologist that led to Mrs Wheatley, 66, arranging for a fibre count to be carried out on a sample of his lung tissue as she was then considering claiming damages under the Fatal Accidents Act.

Mrs Wheatley said she had decided to go ahead with a claim for damages for the sake of all the other people who have gone through the pain of losing someone they loved to asbestosis.

"The thing that made me most angry is that he's missed out on seeing his grandchildren growing up," she said. "There are times when I've particularly enjoyed something that I wish he'd been there."

Halifax-based legal firm, John Pickering and Partners, are handling her case. They were responsible for pushing through the case on behalf of asbestos victims with mesothelioma, which resulted in the landmark House of Lords ruling earlier this year.

It ruled that claimants do not have to identify exactly which employer was responsible for producing the asbestos fibres which triggered their disease if they have been exposed to asbestos dust by more than one employer.

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