Widow of former shipyard worker appeals for help following husband’s death from mesothelioma

The widow of a former fitter in the Mersey shipyards is appealing to his former colleagues to come forward with information following his death from asbestos-related cancer.

Originally from Norris Green, Peter McKernan, 86, died from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung associated with exposure to asbestos, often decades previously.

Peter died before he could provide detailed evidence commenting upon his working conditions, but an inquest into Peter’s death concluded that his development of mesothelioma was an industrial disease arising from his likely exposure to asbestos dust at work.

Following Peter’s death, his widow Teresa (Tess), aged 82 has begun a search for answers in her husband’s memory and has instructed asbestos-related disease experts at Irwin Mitchell to investigate his illness, to see if his exposure to asbestos was linked to his work history.

Tess has joined the legal team ahead of Action Mesothelioma Day on 1 July in appealing for any of Peter’s former workmates and friends to come forward to provide details on the working conditions he faced during his career as a fitter.

Tess and the team are keen to trace anyone who worked with Peter at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, from August 1950 to August 1956. Peter later also worked at the English Electric Company, Liverpool as a diesel-engine fitter, from June 1958 to September 1961.

Natalia Rushworth-White, the specialist asbestos-related disease lawyer at Irwin Mitchell supporting Tess and the family, said, “The use of asbestos in the shipbuilding industry is well documented with Peter’s death being yet another reminder of the terrible legacy the hazardous material has left behind.

“Tess and the family are still coming to terms with their loss and understandably still have a number of questions regarding his death. What’s particularly hard for them to try and come to terms with is the speed at which Peter’s condition deteriorated.

“Nothing can bring Peter back, but if anyone who remembers Peter or worked for the same companies could come forward, it would mean a lot to Teresa and the family. Any detail could prove vital and could help give the family some closure after such a terrible experience.”

Born and bred in Liverpool, on leaving school aged 15 in 1950, Peter went to work for Cammell Laird. Starting as an apprentice fitter in August 1950 after the firm had recently completed HMS Ark Royal, Peter remained with the firm until 1956.

Ships often contained large quantities of asbestos for insulation purposes at the time and prior to his death, Peter told his wife and family he believed he had come into contact with the substance.

Peter worked for English Electric Company, again as a fitter, for more than three years, from June 1958 to September 1961.

In later life, Peter and Tess moved to Newmarket in Suffolk. Peter had been in good health until he started to develop symptoms of mesothelioma in 2021.

He underwent a number of tests and scans following which he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2021. Sadly, Peter’s condition deteriorated very rapidly and he died just weeks later, on 3 October, 2021.

Away from work, Peter was a talented amateur boxer in his early twenties and followed many other sports including Rugby and Football.  Following his retirement, Peter enjoyed gardening, reading, regular days out and travelling on holiday with his wife, Tess.  Peter was a committed family man and is survived by his wife Tess, son Tim and daughter Colette.

Speaking about Peter and the appeal, Teresa said, “Peter had been in good health prior to his illness, so it was such a shock to be given such a terrible diagnosis. We knew it was serious but the mesothelioma progressed so rapidly

“Peter was a wonderful husband and father and the house is so quiet now without him here. Nothing can ever be the same again and the future seems so uncertain. This illness robbed us of our final years together and he didn’t deserve to face this at the end of his life.

“If any of his former workmates or others who worked at the shipyards could come forward with information, it would really mean a lot to me. I’m so keen to shed some light on what happened to Peter and would be grateful for anything people can tell us.”

Anyone with information that might help Teresa and the family is asked to contact Natalia Rushworth-White at Irwin Mitchell on 01223 791810 or email natalia.rushworthwhite@irwinmitchell.com

Held every year, Action Mesothelioma Day brings together victims of the disease, those who have loved ones affected, healthcare professionals, support groups and those working to understand mesothelioma and find a cure. The day aims to ensure the public are also aware of the terrible impact mesothelioma can have on sufferers and their carers.

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