Shotton steelmen's families take legal action


Owen Evans

CLAIMS that a factory’s conditions led to serious disease and even the death of former workers are set to be heard.

A total of 10 former workers at Shotton Steelworks – which now operates under the Tata Steel brand – and their families are pursuing legal action against British Steel and British Coal alleging that respiratory diseases and cancers suffered by former workers were linked to working conditions at the factory.

They form part of a wider group action involving about 350 former coke oven workers from around Wales and a date has now been set for the first consideration of litigation.

Widow Barbara Higgins, 69, of Bank Road, Connah’s Quay, whose husband Thomas, known as Seamus, worked in the coke ovens for 15 years and died in 2010, said she was delighted a date had finally been set for a legal action to begin.

Along with her family, Mrs Higgins joined the joint legal challenge for former workers, many of whom have now died.

She said: “It feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we might be able to finally get some answers.

“It would be nice to get that recognition for these men who were in the job they were – men of that age just wanted a job to provide for their families, they were out there risking their lives.”

Mrs Higgins described her husband as a “gentleman”.

She said: “He was a man’s man and he was a very kind person.

“He was well known and people who knew him liked him instantly. He got on with everyone.”

Mrs Higgins said if the legal challenge was successful, she was hopeful an apology would be given to the people who worked at the factories and their families.

Seamus was one of six brothers who all worked in the steelworks.

His brother Brian worked at the plant for years and said Seamus was a dedicated worker, often the first man on and the last off the top of the ovens.

He said: “That was a horrible place to work, it was disgusting, but that was the industry we worked in.

“There was asbestos everywhere, it was getting thrown all over the place.

“Seamus would be covered in black and dust after his shifts.”

During the review, set for October 16, the judge will be seeking to understand the scale and potential for litigation, taking into consideration the number of coke oven claimants involved.

The action follows a landmark judgement against a Phurnacite plant in South Wales in the High Court in 2012, which paved the way for actions in plants including Porth, Coed Ely, Nantgarw, East Moors, Ebbw Vale, Newport and Port Talbot in South Wales.

Tata Steel, who took over British Steel, declined to comment.

The law firms conducting the case, Hugh James and Irwin Mitchell, can be contacted on 0800 652 5524

See full story in the Leader

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