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Appeal for witnesses after vulnerable Leeds manís asbestos death
The family of a Leeds man who died from an asbestos-related cancer after spending three decades in a specialist hospital have appealed for witnesses in their fight for justice.
John Gogan, who was schizophrenic, died in July this year aged 61 shortly after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a painful lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. For 27 years of his life Mr Gogan was a patient at High Royds psychiatric hospital, and his family believe that during that time he was exposed to the asbestos that ultimately claimed his life. Now Mr Gogan’s sister Betty Hutchinson and her partner John Daw are hoping to prove that his death was a direct result of that exposure, and hold those responsible to account.
“John was two years older than me, and he become gradually ill in his teenage years,” said Mrs Hutchinson, 60, of Meanwood. “He was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 19, and after he had a breakdown in his bedroom at home he voluntarily admitted himself to High Royds in 1969.”
The Menston hospital, which closed in 2003, became Mr Gogan’s home for the next 27 years. “Initially there was a period where he had electric shock treatment coupled with medication,” she said. “But because he was voluntarily admitted he was allowed to go out and would sometimes walk the 15 miles home from High Royds to our mum’s house in Meanwood. When mum told them John was coming home on a regular basis and that she couldn’t cope with his aggression, they came and took him back.”
Mrs Hutchinson said that when her brother was 21, he was finally sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and was not allowed out of hospital again.
“Mum and I would visit John each and every week,” she said. “I was working as a florist in Leeds Market when he was first there, and I would have a half day on a Wednesday and Saturday. We would catch the dedicated bus to High Royds from the city centre.
“Mum and I would have a short one hour visit with John, which was mainly in the dance hall area or sometimes we would sit outside if the weather was nice,” she said. “There were also some half-glass corridors – leading from ward to ward - and we would sometimes sit in those corridors to visit with him.
“The buildings were very old and always seemed to be in a pretty poor state of repair. I remember several times over the years there were workmen carrying out all kinds of maintenance and repair work whilst we were visiting him.”
Mr Gogan (pictured) left the care of High Royds in 1996, after the planned closure of the hospital was announced. Following a stint at St Mary’s Hospital in Armley, he moved to Burley House Nursing Home where he remained until three weeks before his death. He first became unwell at the end of last year, and in February 2012 visited a specialist at St James’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
“He was very ill those last few months - constantly struggling to breathe,” said Mrs Hutchinson. “Even still, I was shocked by the diagnosis. I thought mesothelioma was an illness only plumbers and workmen were likely to get, not someone like John who had spent his whole life in a psychiatric hospital.”
Mr Gogan succumbed to his illness on 6 July this year at Ghyll Royd Nursing Home in Guiseley, and it was only afterwards that Mrs Hutchinson began investigating how he had developed the cancer.
“From what I’d read, it seemed that it takes a very long time for someone to develop mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos,” she said. “We started looking at the dates and it looked like the only time he could possibly have been exposed was when he was a patient at High Royds.”
Mrs Hutchinson contacted Lesley Mynett, a specialist industrial disease lawyer, who took on their fight for justice.
“Mesothelioma is a particularly cruel and insidious disease, which lies dormant for many years before victims begin to suffer symptoms,” said Miss Mynett, a partner with Fentons Solicitors LLP. “Because symptoms usually take many years if not decades to manifest after exposure, we believe the only possible time Mr Gogan could have been exposed to asbestos was during his residence at High Royds. The numbers don’t add up otherwise.”
She said that Mr Gogan had not been involved in any trade work or heavy industry prior to his time at the hospital, and he had not been resident anywhere else long enough for the exposure to have occurred elsewhere.
“Mr Gogan was at High Royds for 27 years,” said Miss Mynett. “During that time there are reports of countless work projects being undertaken at the hospital, and he himself was regularly assigned ‘work’ within the grounds. Unfortunately we don’t know what that work entailed, or where it was carried out, and we now need people to come forward to help us shed some light on just how John was exposed.
“We are hoping to trace anyone who might have worked or visited the hospital any time from 1969 through to 1996, and can give us details to help Betty and John in their quest to hold the authorities to account. We need to hear from any patients or relatives, or anyone who worked at the hospital and who might have seen Mr Gogan there or be able to tell us about the work undertaken by patients within the grounds.
“We need to speak to any nursing staff or maintenance workers who can tell us about some of the renovations carried out at the hospital, and of course we want to hear from anyone who worked or was a patient at High Royds who might themselves have developed an asbestos-related condition.
“Mr Gogan was kept in a state institution for his own safety and wellbeing, but we believe that whilst there he was exposed to the asbestos that led to his premature and painful death,” said Miss Mynett. “Hopefully with the help of former staff and patients, his family can win their fight for justice and hold those they hold responsible to account.”
Can you help?
If you worked at High Royds hospital in Menston any time between 1969 and 1996, if you carried out maintenance in the grounds, if you were a patient or visited a patient during that time, or if you remember a patient named John Gogan, please call Lesley Mynett on 0844 854 3095 or e-mail email@example.com. All calls will be treated in confidence but any information could be vital to this case.
Read more at Yorkshire Evening Post
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