ASBESTOS deaths are set to reach a record high in Oxfordshire in the next six years, it has been warned.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said because of the 30- to 40-year delay – where the substance is in the body but not causing harmful effects – more lives could be claimed in the coming years.

Solicitors bringing compensation claims said they have seen a rise in cases from Oxfordshire including from those who worked in particular areas at the Cowley plant, Didcot Power Station and Harwell’s atomic energy plant, between the 1950s and 1970s, as asbestos was prevalent in industrial buildings.

The HSE expects deaths in Oxfordshire to peak from 2015-2020 in line with other parts of the UK.

Peter Lodge, an industrial disease specialist at Cheltenham’s Festival Law, said he had dealt with more than 100 claims in Oxfordshire over the last 20 years.

He said: “I’ve seen a significant increase in numbers in recent years and sadly that’s the way it’s going to be until we reach the peak over the next few years. Oxford was a big industrial area.”

He said he had dealt with several claims relating to people working at the Cowley plant when it was run by British Leyland from 1967 to 1986, Didcot Power Station and Harwell’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment.

He said: “Most claims are from males in their 60s or 70s who worked in industry between the 1950s and the 1970s.

“It’s coming back to haunt people and ‘ticking timebomb’ is probably quite a suitable phrase.”

HSE spokesman Jason Green yesterday said: “The number of deaths s Continued from page 1 attributed to mesothelioma is likely to increase in the next five years as a result of historical exposure and the most vulnerable now are tradespeople working in building renovation.”

The HSE said between 1981 and 1985 there were eight deaths in Oxfordshire from mesothelioma, the most common form of asbestos-related cancer.

This rose to 29 in 1986-90, 45 from 1991-95, 49 from 1996-2000, 71 from 2001-05 and 77 from 2006-10. In Wiltshire it was 64 and in Buckinghamshire 76 for 2006-10.

From 1981-85 some 2,356 people died across the UK but this rose to 2,291 in 2011 alone and is predicted to increase to 2,438 in 2017 and 2018.

Oxford has been named one of seven areas alongside Manchester, Leicester, Cambridge, Wales, Portsmouth and Bristol, to have a specialist nurse brought in by the national charity Mesothelioma UK. From next month, the nurse will be based at the Churchill Hospital’s Pleural Unit which specialises in diagnosing and treating pleural conditions including mesothelioma.

They will help provide support to patients and their families.

It comes after we reported how former Cowley plant health and safety officer Anthony Boodell died in April, aged 75, following exposure at the factory. A coroner ruled the Kidlington resident – an employee at the plant from 1954-88 – died of industrial disease, epithelial mesothelioma.

The inquest heard that the former tinsmith removed furnaces, ovens and lagging to 1968 and in 2010 said he was exposed to asbestos dust.

Rebecca Baxter, spokeswoman for current owner BMW Group which took over in 1994, said: “Almost all of the asbestos exposures took place before this date.

“Obviously as the current owner of the plant we do all we can to make sure that the insurance companies of the site’s previous owners receive any claims as quickly as possible and will continue to do so.”

County mesothelioma victims include Eynsham grandfather-of-six Larrie Lewington, who died last October, aged 65.

A coroner ruled Mr Lewington – who worked at Witney’s Kidlington Insulation from 1973 to 1978 – died of industrial disease.

Daughter Rebecca Lewington, 31, said: “There are no warning signs.

“So many people out there have asbestos in their lungs and don’t know about it.”

London-based solicitor Kevin Johnson, of Slater and Gordon, who has dealt with Didcot Power Station cases, said: “It was previously thought that incidences of mesothelioma would have peaked before now, but that has not happened, partly we believe due to the levels of asbestos that remains in buildings.”


  • Mesothelioma is a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, which affects the lining of the lungs, chest cavity, or abdomen
  • More than 2,500 people are diagnosed with it each year in the UK and there are about five times as many cases in men as in women. 
  • It is estimated that in the UK more than nine out of 10 men with mesothelioma and more than eight out of 10 women have been in contact with asbestos
  • Asbestos, made from silica, was used from the 1950s until the 1980s as a fire-proofing and insulation

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