Navy Veterans die from asbestos exposure

Last Updated on February 5, 2020 by

Navy Veterans die from asbestos exposure

A coroner has confirmed that two Navy veterans from Devon died as a direct result of being exposed to asbestos in the workplace.

An inquest was held on the 13th September at South Molton town hall.

81 year old William Henry Prior, from Barnstaple, died on March 23rd at North Devon Hospice.

The pathologist, Dr Jason Davies, conducted a post-mortem examination.

He said that Mr Prior had died from bronchopneumonia due to malignant mesothelioma and asbestos fibers being present in his lungs.

Mr Prior was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015.

His health started to worsen in March 2017 and he became unwell at home before being admitted to the hospice.

At the inquest into his death, a statement was read out that Mr Prior had written about his working life.

He said in the statement, “I worked at a London-based firm as a welder and did maintenance work at various places including the Houses of Parliament and hospitals in Essex. I cleaned out ducts and cut out old pipes lagged with asbestos to replace them with new ones. I was exposed to asbestos on a daily basis in hot and dusty environments but had no training. I just had to work it out for myself.”

The coroner concluded that she was satisfied Mr Prior had died after he was exposed to asbestos during his working life in London and then Chelmsford.

Inquest confirms death from Navy asbestos exposure

A second inquest was held regarding the death of  73 year old Robert Samuel Sunley.

Mr Sunley died on 4th February 2017 at the North Devon Hospice.

He spent a few days in hospital at the end of January into early February after complaining of chest pains.

On 3rd February he spoke to his Doctor, Dr Ruth Tapsell from Hartland Surgery, saying that he wanted to die at the hospice.

Later that evening he was admitted to the hospice and died the next day.

Dr Tapsell informed the court that Mr Sunley suffered from a multitude of health problems which included asbestosis, pleural plaque, angina, a heart attack, hypertension, diabetes, and a stroke.

Dr Deborah Cook, Pathologist, confirmed that Mr Sunley had pulmonary fibrosis due to asbestosis relating to exposure.

Cause of death was said to be of acute lower respiratory tract infection complicating asbestosis.

Again, as Mr Prior had previously done, Mr Sunley had prepared a statement about his working life.

In his statement he said, “I worked as a Royal Navy engineer based within the boiler and engine room compartments, repairing machinery and pipework and I was exposed to asbestos continuously throughout the course of my shift. Clouds of dust were released into the air and it was clearly visible. I could not help but breathe in the asbestos dust and fibers. I had no protection against this and could not avoid. I was never warned about the dangers of asbestos exposure whilst working for the Navy.”

Dr Elizabeth Earland, Coroner, gave her conclusion saying, “We have clear evidence in his employment history of him having been exposed to asbestos dust in the Royal Navy and for Caird and Rayner between 1958 and 1975 which is known to cause fibrosis. We have post-mortem findings which confirm that as well. He died as a consequence of asbestos exposure while employed so the appropriate conclusion is industrial decease.”


Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their building so as not to put employees at risk. Contact our Armco office for asbestos management and refurbishment/ demolition surveys on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting

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Published Oct 18, 2017

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