A FORMER shipyard worker who was exposed to asbestos as a teenage apprentice has been handed “significant compensation” after being diagnosed with an incurable cancer.
John Birkett, from Biddick, Washington, was told he had developed mesothelioma after complaining of “extreme tiredness” and undergoing a series of hospital tests.
The 65-year-old was exposed to the deadly dust during his years as a trainee shipwright, which he started when he was 15.
Now, just over a year after doctors gave him the devastating news, he has been awarded what he describes as “significant compensation” by insurers.
“I’ve always been fit and healthy, so when I was diagnosed with mesothelioma it was a huge shock,” he said. “I was exposed to asbestos from when I was just 15.
“It’s difficult to believe that all these years later I am suffering as a result of the jobs I did decades earlier.”
Following his diagnosis in 2011, the grandad contacted asbestos compensations specialists Thompsons Solicitors.
The firm secured an out-of-court settlement against all three shipyards’ insurers.
“We had no idea about the dangers of asbestos back then,” he said. “We were not told to wear masks or other protective clothing.
“The asbestos was flying about all over the place and it wasn’t just me that was affected by it.
“Another worker I was with in the yard and who I used to go cycling with developed the same illness and died not long ago.
“I’m sure there are more.”
Mr Birkett, who has a stepson and two grandchildren, spent five years at Vickers Armstrong sites in Walker, Newcastle, and Hebburn, South Tyneside.
He later worked at shipyards across Europe, the USA and Canada.
Now, after having chemotherapy, which reduced the tumour from 6.2cm to 2.8cm, Mr Birkett is planning a holiday later this year.
“The doctors managed to keep the tumour away from my spine, which was one of their main aims,” he said. “I feel fine at the minute.
“If the tumour starts to grow again, I’ll undergo further treatment and, ultimately, there is nothing they can do to cure it.
“But there is no point in dwelling on that.
“I don’t ask about how quickly the tumour might develop because, in reality, nobody knows.
“I’m just living for every day.”
Gill Connelly, from Thompsons Solicitors, in Newcastle, said Mr Birkett is one of many people in the North East suffering from the condition.
“Sadly, many people in the North East are affected by asbestos disease, particularly those who worked in shipbuilding and other industries, at a time when employers knew about the harmful effect asbestos but failed to make sure workers were properly protected,” she said.
“This compensation will ensure Mr Birkett has the benefit of knowing that his claim is finalised and can make plans for his family.
“I am pleased to have helped him and his family at this difficult time.”