Inquest hears two Devon men killed by exposure to asbestos from time in Royal Navy and various hospitals

Two Devon men have died after exposure to asbestos in the workplace in the Royal Navy and hospitals, a coroner has concluded.

At an inquest on Wednesday, September 13, at South Molton town hall, Coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland heard cases about two men who had died at the end of their working lives after being exposed to asbestos lagging.

After completing a post-mortem examination, pathologist Dr Jason Davies said Mr Prior had died from bronchopneumonia due to malignant mesothelioma and asbestos fibres present in his lungs, which he stated had a strong association with previous asbestos exposure.

In 2015, Mr Prior was diagnosed with mesothelioma. In March 2017 he started to deteriorate and became unwell at home before being admitted to the hospice. In keeping with his wishes, he received end of life care and died at the hospice.

Mr Prior had written a statement about his work life, which was read out at the inquest. In it he said:

“I worked at a London-based firm as a welder and did maintenance work at various places including the Houses of Parliament and hospitals in Essex. I cleaned out ducts and cut out old pipes lagged with asbestos to replace them with new ones. I was exposed to asbestos on a daily basis in hot and dusty environments but had no training. I just had to work it out for myself.”

The coroner concluded:

“I am satisfied Mr Prior was exposed to asbestos during his working life in London and then Chelmsford. I am confident his death was due to this exposure and therefore the appropriate conclusion to give is industrial disease.”

The second inquest of the day examined the death of Hartland man Robert Samuel Sunley, 73, who died on Saturday, February 4, 2017, at North Devon Hospice.

He was admitted to North Devon District Hospital from January 26 to February 2, 2017, presenting with chest pain, and then was keen to head home.

On February 3, he spoke to his general practitioner, Dr Ruth Tapsell from Hartland Surgery, and said he wanted to die at the hospice. He was admitted to the hospice that evening, following advice from his GP, and died the next day.

Dr Tapsell told the court Mr Sunley was known to have asbestosis and pleural plaques. He had suffered from angina, a heart attack, hypertension, diabetes and a stroke, among other health issues.

William Henry Prior, 81, from Barnstaple, died on Thursday, March 23, at North Devon Hospice.

Pathologist Dr Deborah Cook confirmed Mr Sunley had pulmonary fibrosis due to asbestosis relating to exposure, and gave a cause of death of acute lower respiratory tract infection complicating asbestosis.

Mr Sunley also prepared a statement about his work life. He said:

“I worked as a Royal Navy engineer based within the boiler and engine room compartments, repairing machinery and pipework. I was exposed to asbestos continuously throughout the course of my shift. Clouds of dust were released into the air and it was clearly visible. I could not help but breathe in the asbestos dust and fibres. I had no protection against this and could not avoid. I was never warned about the dangers of asbestos exposure.”

Coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland summarised the evidence and gave her conclusion. She said:

“We have clear evidence in his employment history of him having been exposed to asbestos dust in the Royal Navy and for Caird and Rayner between 1958 and 1975 which is known to cause fibrosis. We have post-mortem findings which confirm that as well. He died as a consequence of asbestos exposure while employed so the appropriate conclusion is industrial disease.”