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Thatcham widow receives £330,000 damages in legal battle over husband's asbestos-related death




The widow of a man who died from asbestos exposure in 2018 has received £330,000 in damages in a compensation case.

Colin Harper was 63 when he died from mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos at work.

Working as an apprentice air conditioning engineer in 1970s and 80s London, Mr Harper was exposed to asbestos lagged pipes, working without any suitable protection.

Colin Harper fell ill in 2016, driving him to move back to Thatcham with his wife Julie. Picture by Julie Harper.
Colin Harper fell ill in 2016, driving him to move back to Thatcham with his wife Julie. Picture by Julie Harper.

His wife Julie Harper subsequently took on the companies he worked for, in a lengthy legal battle, at the request of her dying husband.

The legal case was transferred to Hudgell Solicitors before Christmas last year and involved three defendant specialist refrigeration companies based in Newbury and Milton Keynes.

The companies involved were Risby of Newbury Ltd, Kennet Refrigeration and ML Refrigeration, whom Mr Harper worked for between 1968 and 1980.

Colin Harper passed away aged 63. Picture by Julie Harper.
Colin Harper passed away aged 63. Picture by Julie Harper.

Allegedly, each of the three defendants had exposed Mr Harper to risk by working with asbestos without protection during his career, including a time working at Heathrow Airport.

Hudgell Solicitors secured settlement for the whole case with insurers, without any defendant admitting liability.

Mr Harper fell ill in 2016 driving the couple to move back to Thatcham from New Zealand, where they had emigrated to in the mid-90s.

He died in February 2018 following a period of chemotherapy treatment for his mesothelioma in the UK.

Mesothelioma is malignant tumour caused by inhaling asbestos, which gives sufferers a life-expectancy of around 12 months.

Mrs Harper, 68, said that her husband’s death had a “huge impact” on her life, with it sometimes being difficult to even get through the day.

She said: “Life changed so quickly for us.

“I can remember saying to him that he looked very ill.

“He went for a game of golf and was brought home by his friend as he couldn’t complete the round and was struggling to breathe.”

She added: “The next day I went to hospital and they told me he was on the cancer ward and that it was suspected mesothelioma.

“It was a death sentence effectively.”

Solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors, Terry Wilcox, said: “Action was pursued for the risk Mr Harper was exposed to, given the risk of asbestos has been known since the 1930s.

“Although, of course, no amount of compensation can turn back the clock or lessen the impact of losing her husband, I hope it can help Mrs Harper in her future life, and hopefully in being able to spend more time back in New Zealand with her family.”

Mrs Harper said that she left her family and life behind when she left New Zealand.

“When the specialists suggested we come back to the UK as doctors over here would be more experienced in treating it, we didn’t hesitate," she said.

“Colin wanted us to come back as he thought there would be a greater support network around us.

“Colin instigated the legal claim initially for compensation."

She added: “I couldn’t face it really, it didn’t seem right to me and I found myself struggling to discuss money when all I wanted was for somebody to tell me my husband wasn’t going to die.

“Our youngest son tragically died some years ago, so now I have found myself in a position where I have lost my home in New Zealand which I loved, lost my husband and one of my sons, and the family I have are thousands of miles away.

“I haven’t been able to go back to New Zealand before now because I have of course been seeing through the legal case, which in many ways has kept Colin alive and with me in my mind, and then there have been all the restrictions due to Covid.

“Hopefully now though, I will be able to go back.”

Mrs Harper said that she is hoping to be able to use her settlement money to travel back to New Zealand regularly to see her son Lee, and her grandchildren.



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