INSURERS have sparked outrage by refusing to pay damages to the widow of a York asbestos victim.

The former York Carriageworks employee died of the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma in 2003, aged just 49.

The man, whose identity has not been disclosed, worked as a coachbuilder at the Holgate Road factory for three years.

He is one of many scores of people who have fallen victim to the city's deadly asbestos timebomb.

But insurers for the British Railway Board claim his widow should not receive compensation because he did not start work at the factory until 1976, while asbestos spraying had finished in his area of work in the 1960s.

The insurers, Crawfords, claim the prospect of there being any asbestos dust in the area where he worked would be "remote", and they are therefore denying liability.

But the widow's solicitor, Ron Thompson, of Pattinson and Brewer, said today that asbestos dust was still present in the carriageworks for many years after the spraying stopped, posing a risk to workers' health.

"The buildings were not cleared of asbestos dust," he said. "It may have been cleared from floors, but it was present on ceilings, walls and other surfaces."

The Press can today reveal proof that asbestos dust was still present in the Holgate Road factory after it closed down in the mid-1990s.

A letter, which was sent to a union official by Yorkshire Forward and has now been passed to the paper, reveals that as the sheds were being refurbished for occupation by the wagon-makers Thrall, dust which had been found on all level surfaces was sent for analysis as a routine exercise.

The letter said this analysis revealed that the dust was contaminated with a cocktail of contaminants, including asbestos, although greater concerns were raised by the presence of heavy metals such as arsenic and lead.

It said there were no records of the volume of any contaminant, including asbestos, but the whole of the building had to be cleaned to remove the dust before Thrall could move in.

Mr Thompson said he also had a copy of an internal memo dating back to 1981, which revealed that soil on three-quarters of an acre of the site was contaminated by asbestos.

He said the insurer's refusal to pay compensation would be contested in court. "We have issued court proceedings," he said.

He added that the man was not known to have been exposed to the dust at any other location in his lifetime.

Former carriageworks union official Paul Cooper, who has campaigned for years on behalf of the many scores of asbestos timebomb victims, said today he was "outraged" by the insurers' stance.

"We have always contended there was residual asbestos on the site. We don't think the workshops were ever properly decommissioned and cleaned up. The Yorkshire Forward document proves that."

Paul Harvey, marketing manager at Crawfords, told The Press: "We wouldn't comment on individual cases."