A man who developed the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma after being exposed to the deadly dust while demolishing prefabricated houses has received compensation from his former employer only weeks before his death from the disease.

John Manniex, from Leigh in Greater Manchester, tragically died on 1 July. But he lived to see the company he worked for in the late 1960s agree to pay out after a legal battle that ended in a three day trial at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Mr Manniex worked for the demolition company Mee and Cocker (Leigh) Limited, which was based at Peacock Fold in Leigh. He was employed to demolish prefabricated houses so that the aluminium used in their construction could be reclaimed. He worked as part of a gang that travelled all over the North West, West Midlands and Wales.

Demolition of properties containing asbestos

His job involved the demolition of thousands of prefab properties with roofs that were lined with asbestos. He would also take out the kitchens and he recalled that the built in ovens – something of a novelty at the time – were insulated with asbestos sheeting.

Before his death, Mr Manniex described the conditions: “We used to push the asbestos panels out from the roofs and let them drop to the floor. As they dropped they broke up and asbestos dust would be released. We would have that dust around us as we continued to demolish the building.

“Mee & Cocker were merely concerned with the aluminium roofs on the houses. At no stage did they ever warn us of the dangers of the asbestos that we were disturbing. We were never given a mask or alerted to the danger to our health.”

But his employer denied that the prefabs contained asbestos. Their lawyers argued that asbestos was not used in aluminium prefabricated housing.

Thompsons Solicitors recovered compensation

At the trial, Stanley Mee, a former company director, admitted that he did not know what materials were in the buildings being demolished and that no checks were made to ensure they didn’t contain asbestos, or precautions taken to protect his workers from asbestos.

He then admitted that the prefab roofs may have been underlined with asbestos. Only then did Mee and Cocker’s lawyers offer to settle Mr Manniex’s compensation claim.

Steven Dickens, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: “We had a real fight on our hands to succeed in Mr Manniex’s claim. The defendant’s insurers were determined not to admit that the aluminium prefabricated houses, which were so widely used after the Second World War, contained asbestos. They based these arguments on academic texts and as a result they forced a dying man to endure a 12 month legal battle culminating in a trial.

“Mr Manniex felt vindicated when they finally agreed to settle his claim. He was also motivated in pursuing it to warn the many other men who worked alongside him demolishing prefabs that they may have been exposed to asbestos.”