Man exposed to asbestos as apprentice in 1960s appeals for help

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Man exposed to asbestos as apprentice in 1960s appeals for help

18th March 2011

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

Between 1963 and 1968, Christopher Gibney trained as a painter and decorator with HH Woolnough & Son Ltd, based in Harleston Road, Northampton. But little did he know that the asbestos he was exposed to four decades ago would lead to him developing the painful cancer mesothelioma.

"I was 16 when I started working there," said Mr Gibney, now 64, of Nobottle. "It wasn't until forty years later, in 2004, that I became ill, and I was devastated when I was told I had developed mesothelioma."

After the diagnosis was confirmed in April 2005, Mr Gibney underwent a parietal pleurectomy - a surgical procedure which involved part of his lung being removed, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. "As soon as the doctors told me I had been exposed to asbestos, I knew it must have been during my time at Woolnough's," said Mr Gibney.

He and his wife, Judy, originally contacted solicitors in 2006 to help them fight for industrial disease compensation, but the case faltered when the insurers for HH Woolnough & Son Ltd could not be found. Now, after undergoing more chemotherapy and radiotherapy and appointing a specialist industrial disease expert, Mr Gibney - a father of two grown-up children and grandfather of three - is hoping former colleagues will come forward with vital information.

"During my apprenticeship with Woolnough's, we undertook projects painting and decorating on lots of different domestic and commercial properties," said Mr Gibney. "We had a contract with Daventry Borough Council to maintain a number of council houses, and I remember working on various estates including Byfield, Woodford Halse, Braunston and West Haddon

"Because I was the young apprentice, in the main I was given what I would call the less attractive jobs," he said.

"I would use a wire brush to clean the guttering which was made of an asbestos material, causing a fine dust which got all over my clothes and hair and which I would breathe in," he said. "It was my job to do this wire brushing on every project we did for the council, which was about three months' of work each year.

"I was also exposed to asbestos on other jobs with Woolnough's, for example we would often undertake work on commercial or local authority buildings," said Mr Gibney. "I specifically remember working at the Northampton College on St George's Avenue and also at St Crispin's Hospital, where we carried out work in the boiler rooms. As we worked, asbestos dust may have been disturbed from the lagging around the pipe work and the boilers, getting in the air and all over anyone in the room. We also worked at Yelvertoft School, where asbestos ceilings were being fitted."

Lesley Mynett, an industrial disease specialist with Fentons Solicitors LLP, said that as it is believed HH Woolnough & Son went out of business in the 1980s, Mr Gibney's case hinges on being able to identify the firm's former insurers.

"It takes many years after exposure to asbestos before any related disease becomes apparent, which can make finding witnesses and information about the employer very difficult," said Miss Mynett. "The problem we now face is tracing the insurers of the company at the time, and colleagues of Christopher who can confirm the asbestos exposure."

"We are trying to track down people who worked in the Woolnough's office," she said, "or anyone who worked for Bernard Tippleston Solicitors, the firm which acted for the company around that time.

"Unless we can track down the insurance company and prove that Christopher was exposed to asbestos, he may go uncompensated for the fact that all he did was work diligently and as a result he has developed this dreadful illness," said Miss Mynett.

Can you help?
If you remember working alongside Christopher Gibney between 1963 and 1968, or if you worked for HH Woolnough & Son Ltd and think you can help in any way, please call Lesley Mynett on 0161 238 6417 or e-mail