Asbestos Victim ‘Shocked’ at Cancer Diagnosis

Expert Lawyers Seek Engineer's Former Colleagues To Help With Investigation Into Exposure To Deadly Dust


A retired marine engineer from Hebburn diagnosed with a terminal asbestos-related cancer is appealing to his former colleagues to come forward and help with an investigation into his exposure to the deadly dust.

John Mason, 81, is currently undergoing chemotherapy for mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos and has asked industrial illness specialists at law firm Irwin Mitchell to help investigate where he came into contact with the material.

The widower, who has two sons and three grandsons, says he was ‘shocked and devastated’ at the diagnosis of the illness, which has put an end to the daily four-mile walks he used to take and led to him losing weight.

As a marine engineer, he would often be down in the engine rooms of ships in confined spaces, eight hours a day, five days a week working in dusty environments.

He worked at White's Marine Engineering Company Limited in Hebburn from 1944 to 1951 where he began as an apprentice marine engineer before becoming fully qualified. He then moved to Houlder Brothers & Co Ltd (Merchant Navy), where he was initially employed as a junior engineer, reaching 2nd engineer before leaving the Merchant Navy in 1956.

For the next year he worked at Palmers Hebburn shipyard as a marine engineer working onboard ships repairing boilers and pipe work insulated with asbestos. 

Mr Mason said: “I was devastated and shocked to hear the news about my condition. To think that I am now suffering because of simply going to work and carrying out my job 50 years ago is very hard to come to terms with.

“Throughout my whole career I have worked with ships’ engines, boilers and pipework and heater exchanges in factories. More often than not these have been very dusty environments. In some of the roles we had to chip away the asbestos insulation but I was never provided with any mask or warned of the dangers of working with asbestos when I was an engineer, even though the firms must have known the risks.  

“I hope that anyone who might have any information will come forward and help.”

Isobel Lovett, an asbestos-related disease expert at law firm Irwin Mitchell in Newcastle, said: “The shipbuilding industry has a long history of asbestos related illness as, unfortunately, many firms did not provide their employees with the appropriate protection against the dangers of working with the substance.

“Many of these workers are now suffering the consequences as illnesses related to breathing in the dust can take 30 to 50 years to develop. This is why it can be difficult to find information on the companies involved.

“Asbestos related diseases are often very aggressive and cause heartache for the victims and their families as the unpleasant symptoms such as severe breathlessness can be extremely distressing.

“Thousands of people are dying from mesothelioma every year as a result of negligence many years ago by their employers. The victims’ employers should have known the risks involved but yet continued to put the lives of their workforce in danger rather than deal with the presence of such a deadly material as asbestos in their workplace.”

Anyone able to help or who worked at the companies mentioned at the same time as Mr Mason should contact Isobel Lovett at Irwin Mitchell on 0191 2790104 or email