Monday, April 10, 2006

From today's "Evening Courier"

As the Hebden Bridge youngster happily played with her classmates, an invisible menace was at work. Giant extractor fans from the Acre Mill factory nearby were pumping out deadly asbestos dust. And 60 years later, Mrs Gill died from industrial disease.

The great-grandmother, of Spring Grove, Hebden Bridge, did not know she was ill until 18 months ago. And she was shocked to discover she had been poisoned during innocent playground games at Old Town Primary School.

Her husband of 48 years, Michael Gill, said: "There was no sign whatsoever for 60 years. And then in 18 months it is all over.
"It was a terrible shock. Someone should take full responsibility."
He added: "She was so lively, with no problems at all. She was lovely, outgoing and had loads of friends for every day of the week. She was out every day."

In 2004 Mrs Gill began to complain of a strange illness. She died, aged 70, in January this year.

Mr Gill said: "She started getting tired very easily. Even on shopping trips she would want to stop halfway through and go home. And she loved shopping and walking." Doctors suspected a thyroid problem and then blamed ovarian cancer.

Finally the truth was discovered she was dying from mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos dust. The disease can take root after just one month's exposure to the deadly material. Mrs Gill had spent her first school years at Old Town primary in the early 1940s while her father worked as a pipe cutter in Acre Mill. She and her school friends would huddle underneath the factory's fans to stay warm in winter. And they would run through the asbestos dust as they played in the summer.

Mrs Gill's son Graham, of Warley Wood Avenue, Luddenden Foot, said: "I suppose coming from Hebden Bridge you are pretty used to it. "So many people have died from it. But it was a shock with her because she was not involved with asbestos.

"She never worked there." At an inquest into the tragedy, deputy coroner Mark Hinchliffe recorded a verdict of death by industrial disease. He said: "Though she did not work with asbestos she was nevertheless exposed as fibres were discharged into the atmosphere from the mill.

"Had it not been for this exposure, I am certain Mrs Gill would have been with us today and for many years to come." The mill, owned and run by Cape Asbestos, has been responsible for dozens of deaths.

The firm produced filters for gas masks during World War Two, as well as insulation. More than 2,200 people worked in the factory at its height. But years later the workers and their families were falling ill and dying from asbestos-related diseases. The mill shut in 1970.

Legal actions have been launched since. But Mrs Gill's family could receive nothing because she was exposed in the years before the owners knew the full threat posed by asbestos.
The family's lawyer, Ryan O'Hara of John Pickering and Partners, said: "I find cases like this particularly saddening. Cases such as this are particularly difficult to prove."

But for Mr Gill, the inquest verdict provided some comfort. "It puts an end to it in a sort of a way. I have waited nearly three months for this conclusion. But it is still hard to believe. I think we will pursue our case against Cape."

Elsewhere on the Hebweb

Hebweb Feature on Acre Mill

Acre Mill
Acre Mill. Thanks to Frank Woolrych of the Hebden Bridge Local History Group for making this photo available: it was taken sometime in the seventies

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