Company fined £10k after its workers disturbed asbestos forcing Bamber Bridge family to abandon their home for 12 months and dump most of their possessions in landfill

A family from Bamber Bridge had spoken for the first time about how a garage door replacement ended up causing devastation, after workmen disturbed two kinds of asbestos.

Stuart and Claire Jones and their two teenage daughters were forced to spend almost 12 months living in hotels and rented accommodation, and losing all of their worldly possessions when their home in Brownedge Lane was contaminated, sealed off, and had to be stripped back to bare brick.

To compound their problems, the family were not covered on their own home insurance policy because the damage had been caused by a workman.

Instead, they spent months wrangling over liability and have ended up with an indemnity payout, which they say has left them £140,000 out of pocket. They are not entitled to any compensation.

Workers sweeping the house for asbestos

Now they want to use their story to warn other people to be aware of what can happen, and how insurance claims work

Earlier this month the company, Garage Doors (Northern) Limited of Aspden Street, Bamber Bridge, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,589 at Preston Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 6 (1) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company has also apologised to the Jones family.

The hearing heard that in October 2019, Mr and Mrs Jones instructed the company, trading as Garage Doors Lancashire, to replace an integral garage door at their 1962 home with an electric roller door.

Workers from the company removed old fittings from the side of the integral garage door with an angle grinder and some of the ceiling fittings with a crowbar. Holes were drilled into the ceiling to fit new roof bars and in doing so they caused damage to the ceiling, which was made of Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB).

Some of the family's possession packaged up

The resulting dust containing asbestos fibres was spread through the house via the central heating system, via the family’s vacuum cleaner that was used to tidy up after the workmen, and washing machine.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that despite undertaking work on a building built before 2000, a suitable and sufficient assessment to establish whether asbestos was liable to be present in the premises, and what type of asbestos containing material may have been present, was not carried out prior to the start of the job.

The Company has since implemented advice from the Health and Safety Executive.

It was only because Mr Jones was unhappy with the roller door and asked another two companies to come and quote for the job, that he was informed that there could be a problem.

Items including the couple's wedding certificate had been taken to landfill

Mr and Mrs Jones, their daughters and four dogs lived in the house for three weeks unsure whether there was any danger.

“We decided to get our own tests done and it came back positive for white and brown asbestos, and we were told it was unsafe and we had to get out”, said Mr Jones. “I was told it was the worst domestic outbreak an expert had ever seen. It was like something from ET with all of these men coming in with hazmat suits on.” Subsequent testing of the material came back positive for Chrysotile and Amosite.

Amosite is one of the most dangerous forms of asbestos, posing the greatest risks to health if fibres are inhaled, including irreversible scarring of the lungs and lung cancers.

Mr and Mrs Jones have been told that exposure to even one asbestos fibre can kill, and that it can take 20 to 30 years for any illness to become apparent.

Mr Jones said: “If the worst happens, for me and my wife, we’ll be in our 70s and will have had a good innings. But our children will be in their 30s, probably with young families of their own.”

Despite health worries, the family felt at least reassured that they had enhanced home insurance cover, and Mr Jones says that when he contacted Halifax home insurance he was initially told him everything was in order and to get a hotel room and expenses would be paid for.

But it soon became apparent that because the family had not caused the damage, any costs or payout would have to be dealt with by the company’s insurer, and liability would have to be proved.

A team of specialist cleaners moved into the Bamber Bridge house and began stripping everything out, including plaster from the wall. The total bill for cleaning, including VAT, came to £105,000.

More than 600 bags filled with the possessions were bagged up and taken to landfill, including the children’s phones, computers, clothes, and Mr Jones’ collection of 11 Lambretta and Vespa scooters, which were in the garage.

Mrs Jones, 45, said: “We don’t have baby pictures, baby hair locks or teeth that I’d kept, Christening gowns, wedding dresses, nothing. I try not to think about it too much, but there are occasions when someone will ask for something and you don’t have it, and it makes you realise again that everything’s gone.”

Mr Jones said: “It’s the silly stuff that gets to me, like all my grandad’s tools have gone. They used to bring back memories for me using them with him as a boy.

“Now everything’s clinical, it’s not ours. The kids say that it feels like we’re living in a hotel.”

The family were able to move back in before Christmas, but finishing touches are still not complete, and Mr Jones is keen to point out the distress, noise and inconvenience suffered by his near neighbours.