Leeds widower seeks help from former workmates after wife dies from asbestos-related cancer

Childhood sweethearts John and Rosalie Plunkett on their wedding day.
Childhood sweethearts John and Rosalie Plunkett on their wedding day.

Washing her husband’s overalls may have caused the asbestos-related cancer which claimed the life of a great-grandmother from Leeds.

Rosalie Plunkett would clean labourer John’s ‘dusty and dirty’ work clothes, which sometimes went unwashed for weeks if he was working away.

John and Rosalie Plunkett.

John and Rosalie Plunkett.

It was only years later when John was diagnosed with pleural thickening – a debilitating lung disease caused by asbestos exposure – that the couple realised the danger they had unwittingly put themselves in.

Rosalie was diagnosed with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in March 2016 and died within six months.

John, who lives in Seacroft, said his life had been ‘in turmoil’ since he lost his childhood sweetheart and wife of almost 60 years.

“Rosalie was the heart of the family and it feels like that heart has been ripped out,” the 77-year-old said.

John Plunkett, now 77, hopes to find some answers about how his wife came to develop abestos-related cancer.

John Plunkett, now 77, hopes to find some answers about how his wife came to develop abestos-related cancer.

“It’s devastating to think the dust I was bringing into the house was the stuff that killed her – but at the time we had no idea.”

The couple had been trying to come to terms with the recent death of their eldest son, Stephen, when Rosalie fell ill.

“It was horrendous, particularly those last few weeks. She was in terrible pain,” John said.

“We have 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and she was absolutely engrossed in them, but by the end she didn’t have the energy to do anything with them at all.

“We’d only just lost Stephen and to lose Rosalie as well, my life has been in turmoil ever since."

Rosalie, who was 76 when she died, could not remember coming into contact with asbestos in her jobs as an office and shop worker.

However, John believes that he was exposed to asbestos during his time as a labourer.

Now law firm Slater and Gordon is appealing for anyone who remembers working with John to come forward.

He relined old boilers and repaired furnaces while working for W T Pearsons in Leeds between 1956 and 1960/61.

Stints followed between 1970 and 1971 at British Ceramic Service Company Limited in Ireland and Refractory Services, known as Blacks Refractories. While at Blacks, he lagged pipes and boilers at Blackburn Meadows, Thorpe Marsh and Drax power stations.

Emma Newman, an industrial disease specialist at Slater and Gordon, said: “Sadly, John is not alone in his experience. Employers were aware of the dangers of asbestos, but many did little or nothing to protect workers.

“We know this was a long time ago and that’s why it’s so important we speak to John’s former colleagues who could be vital in helping us piece together when and where this exposure took place.”

Email emma.newman@slatergordon.co.uk or call Emma Newman on 0161 383 3474 with any information.

PIC: PA

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