Fylde coast widower supporting asbestos probe after wife's death

A widower left devastated after his wife died of cancer said he was shocked when the illness was linked to the deadly building material asbestos.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 12:02 pm
John Blackshaw, whose wife Judith died of asbestos-linked cancer mesothelioma.

Judith Blackshaw died in July last year at the age of 71 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer closely associated with exposure to the substance, which was widely used in construction before its dangers became fully known.

John, 63, from Bispham, was married to Judith for more than 40 years and described her as bubbly and active. She was mum to Kerry, 40, and a loving gran to Sienna, 13, and Millie, six.

The close-knit family life was shattered after Judith started to suffer repeated bouts of breathlessness in May 2019. X-rays revealed a shadow on her lungs.

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John and Judith Blackshaw with daughter Kerry

The diagnosis came as a bombshell but, just before it was confirmed, the couple were asked by the doctor if she had been exposed to asbestos.

John, a retired admin worker at Kirkham Prison, said: “When she was asked if she’d been exposed to it we’d always say no, it didn’t seem possible. But it doesn’t take a dirty great big handful of asbestos, it takes one speck of the stuff and if you’re susceptible then you’re done for. It’s horrible stuff. To say all this was a shock to us is an understatement.”

A striking feature of the illness is that, in most cases, it doesn’t develop until decades after the exposure, once the tiny fibres have had time to devastate the body internally.

The question now is: when and where was Judith exposed?

John said he wonders whether her long career as a civil servant may be linked to her illness, although there’s currently no evidence contained in her work records provided by the DWP

Judith started working for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in the Norcross office in 1965 when she was 16.

She worked on and off in admin roles between Norcross – and another site in Warbreck – until she retired at 60 in 2009. Both sites were occupied by the DWP until the mid-2000s when the majority of the buildings were demolished and redeveloped for housing. Only one office block remains.

John claimed it was known that, back in the 1980s, asbestos was in the old prefab buildings and letters were sent out – but said not everyone received them.

He added: “They used to hang up Christmas decorations in these offices. That was before the days of blue tack so they would pin them to the walls. It could have been something as simple as that, making a hole, and getting dust on her fingers.

“We thought we’d have longer together to enjoy retirement. Getting this disease – then lockdown – took it all away from her. I can’t stress enough how much our daughter and the grandkids meant to her. It was so hard to watch that slip away.”

John is now working with a legal team from Slater and Gordon, which specialises in asbestos-linked cases and is looking for any information which could help with its investigation and compensation claim.

Lawyer Emma Newman said: “We are urgently seeking information from anyone who worked with Judith, or anyone who worked at these sites more generally – specifically anyone who received letters about asbestos at the site or who witnessed any covering of materials containing asbestos."

To contact Emma Romana Newman, email on [email protected]

A DWP spokesperson said:“The health and safety of our colleagues is paramount and our thoughts are with Mrs Blackshaw’s family. As the investigation is ongoing we can’t comment further at this stage.”