Essex pensioner may have developed mesothelioma from washing docker husband’s clothes

A pensioner may have died after being exposed to asbestos while washing her husband’s work clothes, lawyers have argued.

The family of 83-year-old Joan Morris has launched legal action to establish the cause of her death. Joan died four months after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung most commonly associated with exposure to asbestos-related materials.

Following her death, Joan’s family instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate how she developed the illness.

The firm is now looking into whether Joan may have been exposed to asbestos while washing the work clothes of her late first husband Donald Merrells, who worked as a tally clerk at Tilbury Docks in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They have now joined Joan’s relatives in calling on anyone who may have information regarding working conditions at the docks to come forward and help the family gain vital answers.

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Alexia Kapranos, specialist asbestos-related disease lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s London office, said:

“While many of the cases we are involved in are related to those who have been directly exposed to asbestos during their working lives, instances when family members have had ‘secondary’ exposure are sadly not uncommon.

From our initial investigations we believe that there is a possibility that Joan’s illness may have been caused by contact with her first husband’s work clothes, so would be keen to hear from anyone who could shed light on whether his role at Tilbury Docks could have caused asbestos exposure.

We would be hugely grateful to anyone who can help, as any information could prove key to getting this family justice.”

Tilbury Docks

Donald, who was also a councillor for Thurrock Council in the 1960s and 1970s, worked at Tilbury Docks and his role would see him count the various products which came onto the site, thought to have included asbestos powder stored in hessian bags and asbestos sheeting.

Joan and Donald, who were married until 1975, had two children before they separated. She started complaining of symptoms in June 2016. Following tests she was diagnosed with mesothelioma that November and died in March last year.

William Morris, 79, who Joan was married to at the time of her death, said:

“It was incredibly difficult losing Joan and two years on we are still trying to come to terms with the fact that she is not around anymore. We understand that it was unlikely that she personally worked in environments where asbestos was present, so we are now keen for information regarding whether her exposure was caused by washing Donald’s clothing.

We would be so grateful to anyone who might be able to shine a spotlight on this issue and help us push forward with our efforts to get justice regarding Joan’s death.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Alexia Kapranos at Irwin Mitchell’s London office on 0207 421 3903 or email