A SCOTTISH shipbuilder died from asbestos-related cancer after the toxic substance “fell on him like snow”, a court will hear.
The widow of Ian MacLeod is suing for £700,000 in what lawyers claim is one of the most extreme examples yet of how a worker was exposed to asbestos.
Mr MacLeod spent a decade working for Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ltd, moving on in 1963 to an office-based job as a draughtsman.
But his legal team claim massive exposure to asbestos caused the cancer which killed him 16 months ago at the age of 73.
Although Upper Clyde Ship Builders closed in 1971, lawyers for Mr MacLeod’s widow, Elizabeth, are suing the firm’s insurers in the Court of Session.
Mr MacLeod worked on huge ocean liners, such as the Saxonia and the Ivernia, as an apprentice engineer in the fifties.
Lawyers for his family state in the court papers: “While he was working in the engine rooms he had to work alongside insulators known as the ‘white mice men.’
“They were working above the deceased…They cut up sheets of asbestos with a saw.
“The dust dell down on top of [Ian] like snow landing on his hair and his overalls.”
They continue: “They also used a paste known as monkey dung. They applied this to pipe work with a trowel.
“They used to throw the monkey dung around like snowballs.
“All of these operations generated substantial quantities of asbestos dust in the atmosphere of the engine room.”
The court papers describe how Mr McLeod suffered before his death in October 2010.
“He had an X-ray which discovered fluid on his lungs. This was drained.
“In 2010 the deceased found he was experiencing severe chest pain. In May 2010 he had a further scan and biopsy this time disclosing the presence of malignancy.
“He continued to suffer severe pain requiring strong medication to bring it under control.
“He lost appetite and lost weight. He was unable to continue with his previous activities including coaching table tennis and playing bowls.”
Mrs MacLeod, from Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute, is suing for £400,000 for herself, for ‘the deceased’s pain and suffering and loss of life expectancy’ and for loss of financial support. Six other relatives of Mr MacLeod are named as seeking £50,000 each in the action.
She said: “This has been very hard for all of us. He was a lovely person. He wasn’t the only one [at the shipyard], there were other men from the area who worked there.”
Dr Martin Hogg, an expert on asbestos legal cases, said: “It does sound like one the most extreme cases, even for the time.
“You don’t often get blizzard-like conditions.”
Dr Hogg said that, if proved, the allegations would be a “clear case of oversight by the employer of working conditions”.
Thompsons Solicitors are representing Mrs MacLeod. Their asbestos expert Laura Blane said: “Mrs MacLeod’s case is understandably very distressing for the family – it is impossible to imagine what they’re going through.
“Asbestos has cast a dark cloud over Scotland’s industrial history and torn families apart.”
Ms Blane suggested the case was not the only one they are working on that involves extreme exposure to asbestos.
She said: “In a number of cases those involved describe piles of asbestos around them, like snow. This shows just how serious asbestos exposure could get back then.
“When exposed to the dust the victims had no idea that it would end up cutting their life short. The victims and their families deserve support and justice and at Thompsons we do everything possible to make sure that happens.”
Small fibres of asbestos, originally used as fire insulation, can attach to the inner walls of lungs when inhaled.
This can lead to cancer, and cause other harmful conditions such as asbestosis.
Last year the UK Supreme Court upheld the right for victims of asbestos who have pleural plaques, a scarring of the lungs from asbestos, to claim for damages.
Mr MacLeod’s lawyers are seeking damages from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which is effectively an insurance fund for defunct employers.
Law firm Biggart Baillie, which is defending the action, is seeking for the case to be dropped, denying Mr MacLoed contracted mesothelioma from working for the company.
They are asking for Mr MacLeod’s full employment history and medical records to be revealed and information about whether Mr MacLeod smoked.
After Upper Clyde Shipbuilders collapsed, trade unionist Jimmy Reid led shipbuilders in a work-in at the site.