AT LEAST 140 former York carriageworks employees and their relatives have now been killed by the asbestos timebomb – and the death rate may be increasing, a campaigner has said.

Paul Cooper has spoken out in the wake of last week’s funeral of the latest victim, Arnie “Tivvy” Gomersall, at which a church minister, the Rev Matt Woodcock, blasted the “scandalous” way the factory employees were exposed to deadly asbestos dust over decades.

Mr Gomersall had said some years ago that more than a score of his friends had died from asbestos exposure, and he feared that one day he would be affected.

Mr Cooper, who was a trade union official at the carriageworks in Holgate Road and helped set up a support group for York asbestos victims several years ago, said he kept records of deaths as he often helped the victims and their families.

He said his estimate of 141 deaths, which included 59 coachbuilders, among them Arnie, was not the full story, as it related only to cases of people who had died from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma and whose deaths had been investigated by inquests in York.

“It excludes people whose mesothelioma may not have been picked up by doctors, which does happen sometimes,” he said. “There will also be others who moved away from York years ago, or who died while being treated in hospitals elsewhere, such as Castle Hill near Hull.

“In such cases, if an inquest was held, it would probably have taken place in the city where they died rather than York.”

He said the illness often developed many decades after the victim was exposed to the dust, with fibres lying dormant in the lungs before eventually causing the cancer.

He said it was certain there would be more deaths and the number each year appeared to be rising.

Over the years, there had been about five or six confirmed cases in York each year, but he feared that in the last 12 to 18 months, there had been about nine such cases.