The asbestos timebomb has claimed the lives of two more people – retired York Carriageworks manager Alf Sturdy and former coal engineer Dennis Healy. Mike Laycock reports.

HE saw friends who worked alongside him at York Carriageworks die from asbestos diseases, but thought he was lucky and would get away with it.

Then former technical services manager Alf Sturdy developed the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, and died aged 75 after a long illness.

An inquest heard how Mr Sturdy, of Newland Park Drive, off Hull Road, York, was exposed to deadly asbestos dust during the early decades of a 45-year career at the factory in Holgate Road.

The father-of-two said in a statement written after he was diagnosed: “We were not provided with face masks and undoubtedly breathed in the dust. I didn’t know that asbestos was dangerous at that time.”

He said he started work at the carriageworks as an electrical apprentice and worked initially in various departments at the factory. One way in which he was exposed to the dust was when light fittings, situated in ceilings containing asbestos, were being repaired. He wrote: “Sometimes the ceiling material was disturbed and dust would come off.” Dust would also come from pipes and boilers lagged with the deadly material. York Coroner Donald Coverdale recorded a verdict that he died from bronchial pneumonia due to mesothelioma, saying he had been exposed to asbestos for a prolonged period of time. Scores of former carriageworks employees have succumbed to the incurable illness over the years because of the asbestos dust.

Mr Sturdy’s widow, Ann, 77, said it had been a shock to them both when the disease had been diagnosed. “He had never been chesty. Quite a few friends had suffered from it, but he always thought he was lucky and had got away with it. We didn’t think it would happen to us. It was a terrible illness but he was never bitter and I’m sad but not angry.”

She said her husband, who had two daughters, Jane and Margaret, had spent his last four weeks at St Leonard’s Hospice, where the care had been “marvellous.’ She said Alf had been involved in the Scouts for almost all his life, rising to become York’s last City Commissioner, a District Commissioner and eventually Deputy County Commissioner.

He had also been involved in the running of York Railway Institute, where he was chairman of the retirement section.

‘No protective masks and no warnings’

“YOU could see the asbestos dust glinting in the sunlight like snow. It was on our faces and in our hair”.

The words of Dennis Healy describing the terrible risks he was exposed to while working years ago at Yorkshire coal mines.

His comments came in a statement read out to an inquest – and written before the former parish council chairman died from a disease caused by the deadly asbestos dust.

Today his widow, Doris, told of her sadness and anger at the way he was exposed to asbestos during his early career as a mechanical engineer at Yorkshire coal mines, with no protective masks and no warnings of the danger.

Mrs Healy, 73, of Hambleton, near Selby, spoke of her husband’s suffering before he died, and said: “It’s diabolical the way they were exposed. They weren’t told it wasn’t safe. There was no health and safety at all then.”

An inquest in York was told that Mr Healy, 74, worked at coal mines in West Yorkshire including Normanton before moving later in his career to Gascoigne Wood in the Selby coalfield.

He said in a written statement that he was exposed to asbestos dust at the pithead, both from boilers lagged with the material and from the brake linings of the winding engines. “We would have to remove the lagging with a hammer and chisel to do repairs,” he said.

York Coroner Donald Coverdale recorded a verdict that Mr Healy died from the industrial disease pulmonary fibrosis, caused by exposure to asbestos.