Cambridge University payout in asbestos cancer case

Workers were secretly filmed demolishing a barn made of asbestos cement

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Cambridge University has paid compensation to one of its carpenters who contracted an asbestos-related cancer.

Bob Murphy, who has terminal mesothelioma (a cancer of the lung lining caused by inhaling asbestos dust), takes a cocktail of 30 drugs a day to controls his pain.

He worked in the estates department between 1989 and 2006 and claims he was given insufficient protection.

The university has denied liability and said the payout is not an admission of negligence.

'Ignorance'

Mr Murphy, 65, told BBC Look East: "I was just a worker. At the end of the day you're given a job and you just get on with it and now in hindsight I would have touched nothing.

"I am suffering because of my ignorance.

"All we was given was a paper mask - and also a special hoover which we thought was an asbestos one."

A BBC investigation has discovered other breaches in the university's handling of white asbestos.

As a major property owner, Cambridge University, like many institutions, has a programme of asbestos eradication.

In 2008 during the construction of the £4m Kavli Institute for Cosmology, workmen demolished an asbestos concrete barn without proper precautions.

'Not protected'

A university worker secretly filmed workers smashing the building with scaffolding poles, and breaking up roof sheeting.

Start Quote

How can it not be dangerous when you're told you've got eight to 18 months?”

End Quote Bob Murphy

A worker who witnessed the demolition and gave his name as Russell, said: "I was just horrified because these sheets were just crashing to the ground...

"We couldn't believe that the university was not protecting us as employees and it was even broken up outside the door where we walked into."

In the same month, in an unconnected incident, King's College was fined £16,000 for exposing employees to asbestos.

In a statement, Cambridge University said: "The construction company contracted to dismantle the barn in question in 2008 were negligent.

"That company is no longer on the university's supplier list.

"Since this incident asbestos management procedures have been revised and all contractors are audited on a regular basis.

"A payout to a mesothelioma victim is an insurance matter in recognition of the illness which may have been contracted in the workplace, not an admission of any negligence on the part of the employer."

'Low risk'

The Health and Safety Executive said an investigation into the barn demolition had identified shortcomings in the way the work had been carried out, but there had been no prosecution.

A spokesperson said: "HSE inspectors accepted that the university and others involved took this matter very seriously and have acted robustly to prevent repetition.

"Given that the risks were so low, it was not considered necessary or appropriate for HSE to take further action."

Mr Murphy said he has already outlived the prediction of his terminal illness.

He had left the university before the barn demolition but claimed he was exposed to white asbestos many times.

"I've got a terminal illness. So how can it not be dangerous when you're told you've got eight to 18 months?

"I was looking forward to a long and happy retirement," he said.

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