Inquest hears that asbestos may have killed Oxford’s Bodleian Library professor

A professor may have been killed by asbestos at the world famous Bodleian Library where he was ‘Keeper of the Books,’ an inquest has heard.

Dr Dennis Shaw wrote a personal statement to his family in his dying days, explaining the various places where he had worked and could have contracted the fatal asbestosis, reports the Daily Mail.

A coroner heard that he was working at Oxford’s Bodleian Library when major refurbishment and underground building work was taking place in the early 1970s and may have breathed in killer asbestos fibres leading to his eventual mesothelioma cancer death.

The inquest heard that as his health deteriorated rapidly, 93-year-old Dr Shaw wrote a lengthy private statement for his family, telling what he believed had led to his death. He specifically mentioned the Bodleian Library where he achieved fame as Keeper of Scientific Books from 1976 until he retired in 1991.

Before achieving the title, he had previously worked at the Bodleian Library, which houses the Radcliffe Science Library and had been a regular user when he was a leading academic in physics and science at Oxford University’s Keble College.

Dr Shaw was a guest at the revamped and extended Bodleian Library when it was opened by the Queen and Prince Philip in 1976 and had earlier been commended by the Queen for his academic work at Oxford University.

The inquest in Oxford heard that Dr Shaw spent much of his career supervising building sites as part of his work, most recently the construction of an acre-long underground extension to the Radcliffe Science section of the Bodleian which centres on the famous Radcliffe Camera, a circular building which is part of the Bodleian.

The professor, who devoted his life to science and served Keble College for more than three decades, was diagnosed with lung cancer in early December last year, and told the illness had been caused by hazards in his workplace.

In the final days of his life, he wrote a statement to his family discussing a list of projects that could have contributed to his illness, including the construction of synchrotron facilities in Geneva and and the acre-long extension to the Bodleian library.

He unveiled the new section alongside the Queen and Prince Philip in 1976 after spending an hour-and-a half supervising its construction nearly every day in the early 1970s.

He was diagnosed with the terminal illness in December 2016.

Assistant Coroner for Oxford, Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp (corr), said:

“Mr Shaw sadly died on July 20 this year. The deceased died of mesothelioma, which possibly had work-related causes. He died suddenly in the night.

Mesothelioma is a disease that comes about due to someone’s exposure to asbestos. He was not aware of any exposure but it is difficult to know when you’re clearing large amounts of dust during any building project.

In his statement, he talks about all the work that he did at this time and there were obviously lots of building works all around him.

The Radcliffe Science Library was also undergoing lots of work at the time. His job included supervision of the building works. I would suggest that the correct conclusion here is one of industrial disease.”

Addressing his daughter, Deborah Shaw, she added:

“There is no doubt that your father was in close proximity to building works during this period of time.

At some point during this extensive and impressive career it is clear that Mr Shaw was exposed to asbestos and it was as a consequence of that he developed mesothelioma.

We do have world class treatment here but unfortunately it was never going to save his life. You and the rest of the family have my deepest condolences.”

Miss Shaw told the coroner:

“It was a shock to all of us because at the time it was very fast and unexpected. The deterioration up to his death was probably from April until July. That was the most serious deterioration.

He received very good treatment from the hospital. That gave him a lot of time, several months. From Easter onwards he began to deteriorate.

Still, he did all the groceries on the day before he died.”

A spokesman for the Bodleian Library said:

“Dennis Shaw was Keeper of Scientific Books at the Bodleian Libraries between 1976 and 1991. Dr Shaw was a valued colleague and is a much missed member of staff.

Contributing significantly to the development of library services in Oxford, he became Keeper at a time of expansion, as the Radcliffe Science Library extension project of 1971-74 had increased the Library’s footprint by a third, and served as an open shelf library for scientific collections as well as a study space for the scientific community.”

The library would not comment on the claim that asbestos fibres could have been present during the construction of the expansion.