Man exposed to asbestos as apprentice in 1950s Brighton appeals for help

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Man exposed to asbestos as apprentice in 1950s Brighton appeals for help

5th March 2012

A man who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos as a teenaged apprentice is appealing to former colleagues in Brighton to come forward and help in his fight for justice.

Brian Nichols started working with Allen West & Company Ltd in Brighton in 1955, embarking on a four-year apprenticeship with the company which manufactured electrical control panels. He worked there for over a decade, before being made redundant in 1967. But little did he know that the asbestos he was first exposed to 60 years ago would lead to him developing a painful abdominal cancer.

“The company made control panels for warships, power stations, machinery – and practically anything else that needed a control panel,” said Mr Nichols, now 72. “There were two sites, one in Lewes Road and another at East Moulsecoomb, and I worked at both of those throughout my time with the company.”

Mr Nichols, who lived in Brighton’s Wellington Road from 1955 until moving to Hove in 1963, now lives in Honiton, Devon, with his wife Christine. He was exposed to asbestos when he was assigned the task of assembling and testing control boxes between around 1955 and 1960. “I remember them vividly,” he said. “They were large cast iron boxes, some of them were two feet by three feet, others even bigger. To assemble them I had to fit a control board inside and drill holes into it. The board contained asbestos and it was cut to size in a dusty machine shop, which I walked through nearly every day.

“Some of the control boxes had to be flameproof and I remember how I would use asbestos sheets to line the lids of the boxes, and they were cut to fit my order. Later in my apprenticeship I’d also test various control boxes, including the asbestos-lined ones, at my workbench,” said Mr Nichols. “I had to test that the components worked and this meant coming into contact with the asbestos control board, asbestos coated wiring and having to handle other components made from asbestos.

“It was common knowledge that we were working with asbestos, but there were no masks for protection and I don’t remember any dust extraction facilities, and so I’d end up just inhaling it,” he said.

It was only in 2011 when Mr Nichols suffered a heart problem that tests revealed the asbestos he had been exposed to had led to a very serious condition.

“Early last year I was referred to a London hospital because I had an irregular heartbeat,” said Mr Nichols. “I ended up having two operations on my heart, but following the second one in June I began suffering from breathing difficulties. I was re-admitted and had a CT scan, but we still weren’t sure what the problem was. My wife looked at my notes and saw that mesothelioma was mentioned. We didn’t even know what that was, or that it was related to asbestos exposure,” he said.

Mr Nichols was referred to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where a series of tests confirmed the diagnosis of mesothelioma in November. He has since undergone a series of chemotherapy sessions, but following the diagnosis he has lost weight and feels weak and constantly tired. “I was always active and kept myself busy, but now I find it very difficult to do any gardening for even just a short period of time,” he said. “I can’t walk as far as I used to, and Christine and I can’t go dancing as regularly as we used to.”

Simon Alexander, an industrial disease specialist with Fentons Solicitors LLP, explained that in order to secure Mr Nichols the compensation to which he is entitled, it was vital that witnesses come forward to confirm that asbestos was used at Allen West & Company, and to help identify the firm’s former insurers.

“It takes many years after exposure to asbestos before any related condition becomes apparent, which can make finding witnesses and information very difficult,” said Mr Alexander. “Allen West & Company ceased trading in 2000, so the problem we now face is tracing Brian’s colleagues and the insurers of the company at the time he worked there and was exposed to asbestos.

“We are particularly keen to track down people who worked in the administrative side of the firm,” he said, “or anyone who might remember which company provided insurance for the company around that time. Unless we can track down the insurer and prove that Brian was exposed to asbestos, he may go uncompensated for the fact that all he did was work diligently and developed this dreadful condition as a result,” said Mr Alexander.

Can you help? If you remember working with Brian Nichols between 1955 and 1967, or if you worked for Allen West & Company Ltd andthink you can help in any way, please call Simon Alexander on 0844 854 3141or e-mail