Alnwick man blames asbestos at post office for cancer

RETIRED radio mechanic John Deeble last night claimed exposure to deadly asbestos dust in a Northumberland post office more than four decades ago has left him with terminal cancer.

John Deeble who is suffering from mesothelioma
John Deeble who is suffering from mesothelioma

RETIRED radio mechanic John Deeble last night claimed exposure to deadly asbestos dust in a Northumberland post office more than four decades ago has left him with terminal cancer.

The 91-year-old, who lives in Alnwick, returned to his home town to work in the Fenkle Street branch in 1946 after a five-year stint in the Royal Navy as a radio mechanic.

But more than 40 years after leaving the store, the grandfather-of-one has been told he has incurable mesothelioma, believed to have been contracted when the building was refurbished in the 1960s.

Last night Mr Deeble, who lives with his wife of 64 years, Joan, said: “I spent most of my time at the Alnwick Post Office working in what we called the writing room or the clerical office with the cashier, accounts clerk, the general correspondence clerk and the worker responsible for supplying stamps to sub post offices.

“I believe I was exposed to asbestos dust when the post office underwent major refurbishment in the early 1960s.

“The work took a couple of months and involved removing the ceilings in the building, which exposed the asbestos-covered pipes. Contractors working on scaffold platforms hacked off asbestos from the pipes in corridors that I would walk through three or four times a day.

“It was dusty work and a difficult environment for regular employees like me to work in.

“I was never warned about the dangers of the dust nor was I ever given any protective clothing or a mask to wear while the refurbishment was carried out.”

Mr Deeble was employed at the Northumberland Post Office from 1946 to 1966 and says ceilings in the corridors were removed to uncover pipe work, which was stripped of its asbestos lagging before being replaced.

He first started to develop symptoms of mesothelioma last year, more than 20 years after he retired, and visited his GP in March this year, complaining of being breathless and losing weigh rapidly.

Eventually he was referred to a specialist at Wansbeck Hospital with follow-up treatment at North Tyneside Hospital, where he underwent an operation to drain fluid from his lungs.

Last month, he was diagnosed as suffering from mesothelioma, an incurable lung disease linked to asbestos exposure.

Mr Deeble is hoping a photo of the Alnwick Post Office cricket team taken more than half a century ago could help harvest clues about how he came into contact with the deadly dust.

Mr Deeble, who has one surviving son called Peter and a grandchild from his oldest son David who died of a heart attack in 1992, said: “Before I started to feel unwell because of the mesothelioma, I thought I was in excellent health for my age. Until my wife also became ill in 2011 we walked regularly, often for three or four miles, and I gave up smoking in 1980.

“I used to enjoy doing all the gardening and decorating at home, but since my I started to feel unwell I have to rely on help from my friends and neighbours to cut the grass and weed my plants.

“Joan’s illness also means that I’ve taken on most of the household chores, such a cooking, cleaning, washing and shopping.

“I’m sad and frustrated that I don’t have the energy to look after her and our home as I’d like because of my illness. My son Peter is disabled and he and his wife Aileen help and provide support. It’s devastating to think it could have been prevented if my employers had been aware of the dangers of asbestos.

“I hope my ex-colleagues come forward to help [lawyers] Irwin Mitchell investigate my case and so that it raises awareness of the how this deadly disease is affecting so many people like me.”

Roger Maddocks, a partner and industrial disease expert at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Sadly, John is one of more than 2,000 people diagnosed with mesothelioma every year and he is still coming to terms with the terrible news that he is suffering from an incurable asbestos-related cancer. It’s a devastating illness which can be very distressing for the victims and their families.

“To help John get to the bottom of why he was exposed to asbestos, we would like to hear from anyone who worked at the Alnwick Post Office in Northumberland in the 1960s, who can help shed light on the working conditions he endured.”

Anybody who believes they may be able to help should contact Roger Maddocks on 0191 279 0095 or email


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