‘No hope – I’m just living day by day’

Asbestos: John Magee is trying to find old work colleagues Picture: KEVIN McGUINNESS
Asbestos: John Magee is trying to find old work colleagues Picture: KEVIN McGUINNESS
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When grandfather John Magee started work as an apprentice welder, he never imagined the deadly legacy his working life would leave.

For eight years, John, now 66, worked in dirty and dusty conditions after joining James Watkinson (Engineers) Ltd as an apprentice, continually hammering huge amounts of asbestos lagging from pipe work in boiler houses.

Eventually, he became responsible for installing the new pipe work, and he 
often visited local factories, coal mines and the Shell and BP gas works.

But he believes the continual exposure to asbestos has left him with terminal cancer.

Now John, of Lythcoe Avenue, Fulwood, is appealing for former colleagues to come forward to help him shed light on his disease.

The grandfather-of-two hopes former colleagues at James Watkinson will help find out why and how he came into contact with asbestos back in the 1960s, before it is too late.

John started as an apprentice at the company, formerly of Club Street, Bamber Bridge, in 1963.

“My dad bumped into James Watkinson in the street and asked about an apprenticeship.

“I started on the Monday – it was as easy as that in those days,” he explains.

“The work I did was always dusty and dirty because I had to knock huge amounts of asbestos lagging from the pipe work in the boiler houses with a hammer.

“The lagging was often old, and crumbled off easily, which meant it covered my clothes and hair, and I couldn’t help but breathe it in.

“We never wore a mask.”

John stayed at the company until 1971, when he began work at Baxi in Bamber Bridge, where he stayed for 34 years.

He says work carried out there 
never brought him into contact with asbestos.

But he adds: “It is only recently after I began getting short of breath that I went to the doctors.”

John was referred to Royal Preston Hospital by his doctor where a specialist confirmed he was suffering from 

“I had chemotherapy in April last year but they told me it is incurable. They can only monitor it.

“I’m having chemotherapy but they say there’s not much hope. My wife Shirley finds it very hard.

“I just live day by day now. I am having problems sleeping at the moment and I don’t know if it is because of this or not.”

John says because of this disease he can no longer manage jobs around the house such as gardening and DIY. He is also unable to go shopping.

He is hoping to get in contact with former colleagues so he can talk to them about the conditions they worked under.

He says: “There is the chance they also have mesothelioma but they don’t know yet.

“A lot of my colleagues moved on and we lost contact.”

John is being represented by law firm Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office.

Its staff say they believe the company was taken over by B & R Fabrications Ltd in 1970/1.

Geraldine Coombs, a partner and industrial disease expert at Irwin Mitchell, is representing John in his battle for answers.

She is urging his former colleagues to provide information about the working conditions he endured and to help identify the firm’s insurance company.

Ms Coombs explains: “Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable cancer and causes so much distress to victims like John and their families.

“We often hear about people who have worked in boiler rooms and were exposed to asbestos-lagged boilers and pipes on a regular basis.

“Sadly, many employers did not do enough to manage the risks of asbestos, despite knowing how dangerous the material is.”

Anyone with information about James Watkinson’s insurers can contact Geraldine Coombs on 0161 838 3059 or email geraldine.coombs@irwinmitchell.com.