The family of a former ICI worker needs help from his ex-colleagues

A family needs the help of former ICI employees in Runcorn and Northwich after their grandfather died from an asbestos-related lung cancer.

Christopher Lees, from Sandiway in Northwich, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in February of this year. Mesothelioma is an aggressive and terminal lung cancer cause by breathing in asbestos dust and fibres.

Mr Lees died on May 17, less than four months after he was told he had cancer and an inquest into his death was opened by the HM Coroner’s Office for Cheshire.

Nicola Johnson, Mr Lees’ daughter, says: “In just six months Dad went from helping me with the school run and being Mum’s fulltime carer to not being here at all. He just deteriorated so fast and was in a huge amount of pain constantly at the end.

“I remember taking him to get the results of his biopsy. We sat there holding hands, both expecting bad news as we didn’t think we’d be lucky enough to get away with it and devastatingly, we were right. He was really upset and so scared in the car on the journey home. He told me what his wishes were and how we were going to cope with it.

“We were told he could have chemotherapy to extend his life and for the next two weeks he’d pick himself up and push himself to go out for walks to keep himself fit to be ready to face what was coming next. Then Covid hit and all bets were off.”

Since leaving school in 1955, Chris Lees worked for ICI until his retirement in the early 1990s. It is believed he was exposed to asbestos while working at ICI in Winnington, Northwich, and the company’s Castner Kellner site in Runcorn.

Birchall Blackburn Law is helping Mr Lees’ family make an industrial disease compensation claim and need the memories and recollections from former ICI employees.

Victoria Roberts, an industrial disease specialist solicitor at Birchall Blackburn Law, says: “Mesothelioma is a cruel lung cancer that takes decades to develop after exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. It can be difficult to find evidence about where exactly the exposure took place, which is why we need the help of former ICI employees who worked in Northwich and Runcorn.”

Mr Lees started in the Research and Development Department. From 1968 to 1975 he worked on the development of Monnex, a chemical firefighting agent, and was required to wear an asbestos fire suit.

In 1975 Chris Lees moved to ICI’s Castner Kellner site to work as a Safety Advisor. He carried out site tours and worked with union representatives to improve working conditions and reduce the risk of accidents and injuries. During these site tours he was in the vicinity of maintenance processes, pipework and equipment.

In 1988/89 Chris Lees returned to work at the Winnington and Lostock sites where he continued as a Safety Advisor undertaking site tours and overseeing safety procedures.

Victoria Roberts says: “We would be interested to hear from anyone who worked in the research and development department at Winnington and might be able to assist with a description of the fire suits used as well as anyone who worked at Castner Kellner and can provided information about the maintenance procedure, and the use and presence of asbestos on site.”

Chris Lees, aged 79, was a father of two daughters and a grandfather to four loving grandchildren. He was the main carer for his wife, Gillian, who has a lung condition and severe arthritis. Before his death his main worry was how his condition would impact on his family.

He was a regular and respected church goer but sadly because he died during the Covid-19 pandemic the family were unable to give him a proper funeral. But, despite this and the severely restricted numbers allowed to attend his burial, that did not stop his family, friends and parishioners from lining the funeral route on the day to send him off.

The Department of Work and Pensions says that 53,000 people will eventually die from mesothelioma between 2013 and 2037 in the UK. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than 2,500 people a year die from mesothelioma.

Anyone who knows about the presence of asbestos at ICI in Winnington, Northwich, and the company’s Castner Kellner site in Runcorn, please call Victoria Roberts from Birchall Blackburn Law on 01244 688 763 or email varoberts@birchallblackburn.co.uk. Your details will remain confidential.