BBC sued for set builder’s death in claim over asbestos

Widow of man who contracted cancer while working on corporation productions seeks damages

The BBC is being sued over the death of a set builder who contracted asbestos-related cancer while working on high-profile dramas including Doctor Who. Richard Evans’s widow, Valerie, is seeking damages from the corporation after it admitted in the high court that it had exposed him to asbestos during his 23 years making and painting sets.

He inhaled asbestos dust from Artex, a plaster that contained the poisonous substance, while working for the BBC between 1965 and 1988. The father of two also worked on the 1970s drama The Lotus Eaters and an adaptation of Hard Times by Charles Dickens.

Helen McTighe, the set-maker’s daughter, said: “Seeing my dad deteriorate at the rate he did was very upsetting. Since my dad’s passing I have a big hole left in my life.

“No one ever thinks that their parent won’t be around one day. But it is so much harder to accept when his cancer could have been avoided if he had not worked with asbestos.”

The action is the latest in a growing number of lawsuits the BBC is facing from relatives of ex-employees who died of mesothelioma they contracted after exposure to asbestos in several of the corporation’s premises. The Observer reported in July how it is being sued for damages by Patricia Larkin, the widow of Christopher Larkin, a horn player in the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The broadcaster admitted liability for Larkin developing mesothelioma after rehearsing and recording for 36 years in its asbestos-riddled Maida Vale studios in London. It is also facing legal action by loved ones of another member of the orchestra, violinist Edwin Dodd.

Evans worked mainly at Television Centre in White City, west London, its then headquarters, which it left in 2013. In a statement Evans gave to his lawyer, Harminder Bains, the set-maker described how he had cut open bags of Artex, scooped it into a bucket and mixed it up into a thick paste, sometimes with his hands, creating a dust in the process.

“When I was mixing the Artex and water and creating the paste, dust could clearly be seen all around me and could actually be seen on my bare skin, hands and my forearms and on my overalls.” He then spread the Artex on to flattages – scenery outlines built by carpenters – and painted the resulting pieces of set, such as a cave for an episode of Doctor Who and a Greek village for The Lotus Eaters. He also inhaled asbestos dust when the scenery was broken up after filming.

He added: “While working for the BBC I was not warned of the dangers of asbestos, nor was I provided with protective respiratory equipment.”

Bains, of solicitors Leigh Day, who is acting for Valerie Evans, said: “Richard Evans is the latest person that we know lost his life as a result of breathing in particles of asbestos in a BBC location. Tragically, given that we now know that there was asbestos in several BBC premises, there must be other former BBC staff who lost their lives because of this.“It is appalling that at no time did anyone in the BBC either warn Mr Evans about the dangers of working with Artex, even though the dangers of asbestos became well-known during the time he worked for the corporation, or issue him with protective equipment, which may have reduced his risk.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We were sorry to hear that Richard Evans passed away in 2019 and our thoughts are with his family. The health and safety of all those that work for the BBC or use BBC buildings is a primary concern and the BBC manages asbestos in its buildings in accordance with the applicable regulations and statutory requirements.

“Given that there is an ongoing legal case we are unable to comment further.”

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Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

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