THE widow of a former York Carriageworks employee killed by asbestos told today of her family's heartbreak.

Robert Hirst, who worked at the British Rail factory in Holgate Road in the 1960s, died of the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma, aged 60.

An inquest at Cannock, Staffs, heard that the illness was likely to have been caused by asbestos exposure during his work for British Rail in the 1960s, with coroner Andrew Haigh recording a verdict of industrial death.

Mr Hirst left a widow, Marje, and two daughters, Alice, 23, and Lucy, 17.

Mrs Hirst told the Evening Press that her husband had long since left York, and the family had lived near Stafford for many years.

"How many more people, I wonder, have moved away from York and died of this terrible disease, never realising what or who was to blame," she said.

"I am heartbroken at losing him and feel so angry with whoever was responsible for his death.

"We had been together almost 30 years and had so many things planned to do together now our two daughters are growing up.

"Last year, because he had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, we had to cancel a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to the States, just two weeks before we were due to travel.

"Now I am left with two daughters, still living at home, one 23 and one 17 still in education. They miss their father dreadfully."

She said Alice had had to give up her final year at university because she was so upset at her father's illness.

She said her husband had been aware over the years that he might be at risk from exposure to asbestos at the carriageworks.

The first sign that something was wrong came in September 2001, when he had a pain in his chest. "He thought it was a pulled muscle."

He went into hospital a couple of months later, and mesothelioma was subsequently diagnosed.

But Robert had continued to refuse to believe asbestos was to blame for his illness, even as his condition deteriorated over the following year. Nor did he let it stop him pursuing his hobby of motorcycling racing.

"He was taking part in the Manx Grand Prix only nine weeks before he died."

Paul Cooper, who campaigns on behalf of former carriageworks victims who fall victim to asbestos, said he, too, believed many former employees were now scattered across the country. Many had left York after the factory closed in the 1990s.

Updated: 09:00 Monday, May 19, 2003