Running to fight asbestos and getting justice for dad

When avid runner Ian Slade signed up for the Great South Run 2024, he was stunned to see that the route took him into the Royal Docklands in Portsmouth.

Ian’s dad, Brian, had worked at the very same dockyard as an apprentice boilermaker in the 1950s. Asbestos was still commonly used at this time, and tradespeople such as Brian would have been at risk of exposure. But like so many just like him, he was not aware of the risks. Not long after retirement, he became very ill and discovered that he had contracted mesothelioma, which took his life in 2017.

“Dad was amazing,” Ian says. “There was nothing he couldn’t do. He left school in 1949 to become an apprentice boiler maker and when we sold our house many years later, even the surveyor asked who fitted out the pipes and boiler in our house.”

Brian stepped out into general boat maintenance as his career progressed, which took him and his family to Singapore for three years, before returning to Portsmouth. The family then moved around the UK between Tyneside and Devenport as Brian continued his career, working at various dockyards.

“After dad died, the postmortem showed him as having a grapefruit-sized tumour in his chest,” Ian says. “The medics said he must have been in absolute agony – but we had no idea. He was a typical, stoic, working class guy and was very quiet about his illness. He and my mum never told me or my brother about the extent of it.”

The death of Ian’s dad hit his mum Maureen especially hard and sadly, she passed away, just two years after her husband.

“Mum never got over dad’s death and when she died, it was of a ruptured aorta,” Ian continues. “It’s like she died of a broken heart. I remember her saying it was amazing that we all didn’t end up getting mesothelioma because the asbestos was all over dad’s clothes when he got home from work, like they were covered in snow.”

A long fight for justice

At first, Ian’s family didn’t intend to pursue a civil case, thinking that it was none of their business. He recalls how, after his dad’s death, his mum would say the case hadn’t been settled and that ‘dad would want them to take them – the Ministry of Defence – for every penny’.

“It was only after mum died that my brother and I realised that this was far from over. We decided that she and dad would have wanted us to pursue the case, so we did.”

Four years after the death of Brian, there was very little justice for the lives of Ian’s parents as the Ministry of Defence settled out of court for the sum of £35,000.

“It was an insult,” Ian comments. “It’s not even about the money for me but the fact that it took us so long to settle after both my parents had died and they never got to see a penny of it.”

The journey to fundraising and raising awareness

Although the death of his dad hit him and his family hard, Ian says that he’d never really thought about fundraising before. The idea hit him when he signed up for the Great South Run in Portsmouth.

“I run a lot so when I signed up for the Great South Run, it didn’t even occur to me to pick a charity to sponsor. It wasn’t until I was looking at the route and I saw that it passed right by the Portsmouth Dockyards – where dad used to work. The irony was just horrendous. I decided to sign up to raise funds for Mesothelioma UK and ask for a sponsor vest.”

The run takes place in October 2024, but Ian is stepping up his game and taking a more active role in the fight against asbestos in the meantime. After leaving Portsmouth, he began working as a teacher in London and is a member of the National Education Union, which actively campaigns against asbestos in schools. When the Borough of Brent needed people to start speaking up to propose a motion, Ian did so, telling his dad’s story to highlight the importance of managing asbestos in schools.

A recent petition for the removal of asbestos was rejected by the government due to lack of evidence, although this has not deterred Mesothelioma UK from its loyalty and commitment to giving a voice to the thousands of families affected by the avoidable, incurable asbestos cancer.

“It makes me really cross that this is still going on,” Ian says. “People are petitioning the government without much success so I do anything I can to help. Having to watch my dad, who was so physically robust, get destroyed was the absolute worst thing and I wouldn’t wish this type of death on my worst enemy. Things needs to change and the government needs to step up and take responsibility.”

To sponsor Ian for the Great South Run 2024, visit his page.

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Disclaimer: These stories are based on personal experience and do not constitute medical advice. We recommend you speak to your healthcare team or phone our support line if you have any questions relating to your care or treatment.

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