The wife of a project engineer who died from cancer after being exposed to asbestos at the Rowntrees factory in York, has said she finally feels "justice has been done" after legal experts helped her secure a financial settlement following his death.
Alan Owen worked as a project engineer at the Rowntrees factory for a number of years, before then taking up a role as the chief maintenance engineer and having responsibility for more than 800 members of staff. His final role was as a divisional maintenance co-ordinator and he took voluntary redundancy from the site in 1993 after its takeover by Nestle.
His widow Mary, 86, said: “Alan’s job meant he worked closely with the on-site plumbers and would often be near them as they removed old asbestos materials from pipework and replaced with a substitute."
Mr Owen was 81 when he died at the Highlands Care Home in September 2016 from mesothelioma - a cancer of the lining of the lung commonly associated with exposure to asbestos materials decades ago.
Mrs Own said: “It was truly awful to see how mesothelioma affected him in the final months of his life and I still miss him so much and think of him every day.
"Prior to Alan’s death he was still living life to the full. He was the Head of Governors of York VI College for many years and also organised the educational visits for the Yorkshire Philosophical Society. He was also the secretary of the York Society of Engineers and held that post for 14 years.
“Alan enjoyed cycling, walking, singing in several choirs and playing golf. He also loved travelling and education and we went away together frequently."
After an inquest ruled Mr Owen had died from an industrial disease, Mrs Owen instructed specialist asbestos-related disease lawyers Irwin Mitchell to determine how he developed the illness.
Following their investigations and pre-action correspondence, the experts launched legal action against Nestle in relation to the fact that his exposure to asbestos must have taken place during his time working at the Rowntrees factory in York from 1961 to 1993.
Irwin Mitchell helped Mrs Owen to secure a settlement from the company following her husband's death.
She said: “Receiving this settlement is very welcome and I was hugely touched by the support from those who came forward after we appealed for information regarding conditions at the Rowntrees site. I want to say thank you to everyone that helped, as now I truly feel like justice has been done.
“Losing Alan was awful and his story is a reminder of just how terrible asbestos is.”
Nicola Handley, the asbestos-related disease expert at Irwin Mitchell who represents Mrs Owen said: “This is sadly yet another awful case which puts a spotlight on the terrible consequences that asbestos exposure can lead to.
“While no amount of money will ever make up for what Mary has lost, particularly due to the fact that Mary was reliant on Alan for being her “ears” due to severe hearing problems following treatment with Streptomycin for Tuberculosis in 1967, we are delighted to have secured this settlement and we hope it will provide her with some vital financial support in the years ahead without Alan.”
As the nation marks 20 years since the ban on white asbestos came into force in 1999, deaths from asbestos related disease still claim over 5,000 lives a year in the UK.
There is estimated to be six million tonnes of asbestos in the UK, most in buildings, factories and domestic dwellings. Any building constructed before 1980 for example, may contain asbestos.