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Family’s Search for Answers over Former Shipyard Worker’s Death

Family’s Search for Answers over Former Shipyard Worker’s Death

A daughter is searching for former workmates of her late father in a bid to find out where he could have been exposed to asbestos. 

John Robert Harbottle, 81, died in January last year after developing heart and lung disease which left him virtually bedridden and on oxygen 24 hours a day.

An inquest found evidence of asbestosis, caused by exposure to asbestos, would have played a part by putting extra strain on his heart.

Daughter Susan Dean believes he came into contact with the deadly dust at Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend, North Tyneside, and has now launched legal action against his former employer.

If successful in her search for justice, she has also pledged to donate any financial award to the British Lung Foundation in his memory.

Mr Harbottle started work at the shipyard straight from school in 1947, first as a teaboy and later an electrician.
Mrs Dean said: “He used to work down in the hulls of the ships alongside joiners, fitters and also ‘laggers’ or labourers who lagged the pipes with asbestos.

“He said it was horrendous and you couldn’t see for the fog of asbestos dust flying about everywhere.”
Widowed, the great-grandfather lived alone in Wallsend and in the last few months of his life was cared for by his two daughters, Susan and Sandra.

Mrs Dean, 59, added: “He was a very proud man and there couldn’t have been a worse way for him to go.
“He went from being as fit as a flea to being on oxygen 24/7. His breathing took his legs away so he was stuck in a bedroom.

“I only ever saw him cry twice, once when my mum died and on the last Christmas Day we had with him when he couldn’t make it downstairs to spend it with his family.”

Raised by his grandmother, he was known as John Thompson in his early years and only reverted to Harbottle after marrying his late wife Audrey.

After leaving Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Limited in the early 1960s, he had several different jobs including as an ambulance driver and social worker.

But Mrs Dean, of Wallsend, said: “I think he had some good friends at the shipyard and if he was exposed to asbestos there then they could be in the same position.

“It does make me angry because all he ever tried to do was provide for his wife and children.
“If he had known the risks he wouldn’t have put himself in that situation and we may have had him for a lot longer.”

Simon Alexander, from law firm, Slater and Gordon, is representing Mrs Dean in a civil action.

He said: “Mr Harbottle had no idea of the dangers of asbestos exposure which caused him great discomfort and distress in later life and ultimately contributed to his death.

“We are keen to speak to anyone who worked alongside him and can help his family find the answers they’re looking for.”

Anyone who worked with Mr Harbottle or has any other information they believe may be helpful is asked to contact Simon Alexander on 0161 238 6499 or email: Simon.Alexander@slatergordon.co.uk.