Rochdale woman claims washing husband’s asbestos-ridden clothes gave her cancer

A woman believes her fatal lung cancer was caused by washing her late husband’s asbestos-ridden clothes.

Vivienne Swain’s spouse Michael Power worked as a joiner for Manchester council from 1969 to 1977.

The council will only compensate Vivienne if she finds witnesses to support her claims that Michael, known as Mick, worked with asbestos, her solicitors said. Mick died from brain disease in his early forties.  Mum-of-three Vivienne said;

“It seems cruel. This is going back 40 years, and now the onus is on me to prove that he worked with asbestos. I would shake the overalls before washing them and they would be heavy with dust – so much so that it would cover the kitchen floor. I’d have to sweep it up. I believe these were asbestos fibres.”

Vivienne, 60, from Rochdale, can’t get government compensation for asbestos victims because she did not work directly with the killer material.

She has already had four rounds of chemotherapy. She says her only hope now is immunotherapy, but it is not available on the NHS and she cannot afford it without funding.

Her second husband Peter Swain also worked with asbestos while he was a joiner for Trains of Rochdale, Vivienne says. Peter died from kidney cancer in 2006. Vivienne’s lawyer is still hunting for Trains of Rochdale’s insurers in hope of a payout.

Vivienne first went to the doctor in May 2015 after getting breathless while climbing stairs. An X-ray revealed a third of her lung had collapsed. Three months of tests followed at Fairfield General Hospital and Wythenshawe Hospital before her diagnosis of incurable mesothelioma. When doctors told her she only had three years to live, Vivienne replied: “I guarantee you I’ll still be here in five.”

The diagnosis was ‘a hell of a shock’, says Vivienne, having always been fit and healthy. Telling her three sons was ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do’, she says. Her sons asked if they had a ‘ticking timebomb’ waiting for them too, since they were at home when their father returned from work every day in his overalls.

Her youngest son Todd, 26, was expecting his first baby and Vivienne was determined to meet her grand-child. Amelia is now 13 months old – and Vivienne hopes to survive to see her first day at school.

“What upsets me most is that I’m not only not going to be here for my own children, but for my grandchildren. But I look forward all the time. I don’t look back. I’m just unlucky that both my husbands were joiners, and both worked with asbestos. I don’t feel as if I have time for anger. I just feel passionate about raising awareness about mesothelioma.”

She cannot bear to tell her 85-year-old mother, who has vascular dementia, about her fatal diagnosis. Vivienne avoided seeing her during her chemo in case her mother realised she was unwell. Vivienne said:

“Government after government have known the dangers of asbestos but they have been swept under the carpet.”

Vivienne goes to The Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group every month with 20 fellow sufferers.

Her case is ‘a tragic example of how this killer dust devastates individual lives and entire families’, says her solicitor Steven Dickens, an asbestos disease specialist at Thompsons Solicitors.

A spokesperson for Manchester council said:

“It is always deeply regrettable when anybody has contracted mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related illness, but it would be inappropriate for us to comment on this case at the present time.”

  • Anyone with information about potential asbestos exposure with Manchester council as joiners between 1969-77 or anyone who worked with Mick Power during that period can contact Steven Dickens at Thompsons Solicitors on 01618193571 or email