IT is already thought to have claimed more than 140 lives – but now a campaigner has claimed the true death toll from York’s asbestos timebomb may be even higher.

Paul Cooper, a former York Carriageworks employee and trade unionist who now plays a leading role in the York Asbestos Support Group, has written to York Central MP Hugh Bayley to raise his concerns.

He said that as well as causing mesothelioma, he believed asbestos probably led to cancers in many other parts of the body, including the stomach and the testicles.

He said World Health Organisation research had raised such concerns. Mr Cooper said: “I have, on some occasions, tried to argue for further investigations into the deaths of my colleagues where I felt asbestos might be the cause, both with the consultants and the coroner, Donald Coverdale, sadly to no avail in most cases.”

Mr Bayley has written to Geoffrey Podger, chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive, saying 141 former railway carriage builders in his constituency had died as a result of mesothelioma, contracted through working with asbestos at the factory in Holgate Road.

He said Mr Cooper was concerned many more may have been killed through lung, laryngeal and ovarian cancers, as well as possibly cancer of the pharynx, stomach and gastrointestinal cancers.

Mr Podger replied, saying HSE statistics included estimates of the number of other types of cancer caused by asbestos in addition to mesothelioma, which included lung, stomach and laryngeal cancer.

“HSE has been open and clear about the fact that these cancers are the legacy of past industrial use of asbestos exposure,” he said.

York Coroner Donald Coverdale said he had been aware of Mr Cooper’s views for many years, and said he had to comply with the law in carrying out his statutory duties.

“If a death is reported to me and there is no reason to believe it is unnatural or merits any further inquiry, I am not able to commission a post-mortem examination but am legally obliged to authorise registration of the death without further ado,” he said.

He said that if a post-mortem examination clearly dictated a natural cause of death, he had no jurisdiction to pursue further inquiries, but if it were a case of industrial disease or otherwise unnatural, he would hold an inquest.