Widow handed payout after Barking’s Cape Asbestos factory caused husband’s death

Denis Aherne aged 64 at a wedding in 2009

Denis Aherne aged 64 at a wedding in 2009 - Credit: Archant

The widow of a man who lost his life to asbestos-related cancer has been handed a six-figure settlement as compensation.

Lindsey Aherne, 63, had been fighting for the payout after her husband, Denis, died of mesothelioma cancer in 2012.

Denis grew up next to the Cape Asbestos factory in Barking.

The factory closed down in 1969, leaving behind a deadly legacy. Denis, too, moved away in the 1960s – but his early life had sealed his fate.

“When we were told he had a year to live it just didn’t sink in,” Lindsey told the Post.

“He was devastated when he realised what had caused the cancer. He’d lived there so long ago and we didn’t understand how [the illness] could manifest itself 50 years later.”

Denis was exposed to environmental asbestos dust and died at 67, having lived half a mile from the Harts Lane factory between 1944 and 1961.

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He went to St Joseph’s Primary School on Barking Broadway and St Ethelburga’s Secondary School less than 250 yards from the site.

“During the settlement process I tried not to get bitter or twisted. What’s the point?” said Lindsey.

“But towards the end, when [Cape] weren’t settling, I was angry they were putting me through so much anguish.

“We can’t change the past but they could try to make our future better. They were fighting every one of the cases.

“I settled in the end because I didn’t want to go to court.”

Children at Denis’s school used to play with the toxic asbestos dust in the playground, throwing “snowballs” of it to each other in a deadly game of catch.


Pupils would often wipe it off their desks at the beginning of each lesson and one woman developed the cancer from washing the clothes of her husband who worked in the factory.

Lindsey learned it only takes a tiny particle of dust to get into a person’s lungs for that person to become ill – and it can lie dormant for 50 or 60 years.

Activities at Harts Lane continue to cause suffering today with hundreds being diagnosed and dying since its closure.

The Barking factory showered locals with its lethal dust as it made fire-resistant materials for houses and schools.

Those most at risk were the factory’s workers but, as Denis’s case demonstrates, people living in the area were in danger too.

Lindsey said she plans to use her settlement money to help get her children onto the London housing market, adding: “I know that’s what Denis would have wanted.”

The hardest thing for her, she added, has been the birth of her grandson exactly nine months after Denis’s death.

“He was named after Denis,” she said, “and every time I see him it’s so hard.

“My son is getting married in a couple of weeks too – it’s occasions like that that are hardest.”

Barking MP Margaret Hodge labelled the asbestos-related deaths “one of the biggest tragedies our community has experienced”.

She added: “The individual stories I have heard from victims and relatives over the years have been utterly heartbreaking. Fair compensation is not about the money – it is about justice and recognition. That is the least these families deserve.”

Lindsey will never forget the feeling of “devastation and disbelief” on hearing her husband’s diagnosis.

“The constant reminder of our loss goes on and on. I hope the claim will help bring some justice – not just for my husband, my family and myself but also for all the cases that will inevitably follow.”

Cape had not responded to requests for comment as the Post went to press.