MoD payout after asbestos death is linked to Donnington Army Base fire

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A family whose mum died of cancer caused by asbestos exposure have been awarded a ‘substantial’ payout from the Ministry of Defence.

Susan Maughan pictured with two of her daughters inhaled asbestos dust following a fire at COD Donnington in 1983
Susan Maughan pictured with two of her daughters inhaled asbestos dust following a fire at COD Donnington in 1983

Susan Maughan inhaled the toxic dust following a fire at army depot COD Donnington in 1983, which scattered ash containing asbestos for miles in the streets around her Telford home.

It was three days before the council began its clean-up operation, by which time many residents, like Susan, had already done so themselves.

Tragically for the house-proud mum, her exposure was enough to cause mesothelioma – an aggressive and incurable cancer, typically found in the lungs, which can lie dormant for decades before symptoms appear.

Susan, a mum-of-four who also had eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, died in 2015 aged 63, three years after her diagnosis.

Now, following legal action, the Ministry of Defence, which owned the army base, has reached a ‘substantial’ out-of-court settlement with the family.

But daughters Sonia, Cath and Lorraine, who rallied round to care for their mum when she fell ill, fear they too could be living with the same death sentence.

Lorraine, 47, who was just 11 at the time, said: “Sadly I don’t think mum will be the last victim. My sisters and I now also worry for our health as we played with the dust and debris, which looked like snow, as did many other children.

“We discussed legal action when mum was alive and I’m glad we’ve been able to get justice for her, but it doesn’t undo what’s happened. We all miss her so much.

“You never know what’s around the corner, but it’s hard when someone gets taken away because of a substance that shouldn’t have been used in the first place and in such a devastating way.

“Mum was a fighter, but there was nothing the doctors could do. She was on oxygen all the time and wouldn’t leave the house. We just watched her get weaker and weaker.”

Susan, who also had a son Allan, was living in Winsford, Cheshire, at the time of her death. Over the years she held various jobs including as a cleaner and a hairdresser, but an inquest into her death ruled she had ‘almost certainly’ been exposed to asbestos in the aftermath of the warehouse blaze.

Madelene Holdsworth, head of the industrial disease department at law firm Slater and Gordon, represented the family and is also handling several other cases connected to the fire.

She added: “The ash was spread across a 15-square mile area, much of it residential, so it is likely that hundreds, if not thousands, of people were exposed to asbestos that day.

“By 1983 the dangers were known and while the fire itself was not intentional, what we do know is that the Ministry of Defence had been warned about the lack of fire protection measures and that the building itself was a fire hazard.

“On behalf of the family, I would like to thank the many people who lived in the area at that time and came forward after reading Susan’s story to share their memories with us.

“Nothing will bring her back, but I am pleased that we have at least been able to give her family the answers as to why her life was so tragically and cruelly cut short.”

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