THE widow of a community stalwart who died from asbestos exposure days before their golden wedding anniversary has launched a legal fight for justice.

Devoted father-of-two and grandfather-of-eight Thomas Flower, of Wantage Road, Carrville, near Durham City, spent countless hours coaching boys’ football teams and led a residents’ campaign against the expansion of Ramside Hall Hotel onto greenbelt land.

Mr Flower died in October last year, aged 74, from asbestosis, following a four-year battle with illness.

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An inquest into his death, held last week, concluded that he died as a result of industrial disease.

Now his widow, Jean, 71, is appealing to Mr Flower’s former colleagues to come forward and shed light on conditions in his former workplaces.

Mrs Flower said: “Thomas and I met in our early 20s and had been together for 50 years.

To lose my soul mate just a week before our golden wedding anniversary was almost too much to bear.

“He was so ill during the last few years of his life. He never complained, but I knew he was suffering and it was heartbreaking for me and the rest of the family to see, as he’d worked so hard all his life to support us. He was such a devoted husband and father.

“Not knowing he died from asbestosis until after his death made things ten times worse.

I am still in shock and feel numb about it.

“I really find that I can’t think straight. If anyone can help us find answers as to why Thomas became so ill with this dreadful disease, I urge them to get in touch with us.”

Mr Flower worked at Newalls Insulation, at Washington Chemical Company, between 1964 and 19655 and 1966- 7; Pyrex, in Sunderland, from 1963 until the late 1960s or early 1970s; Caterpillar, in Birtley, near Chester-le-Street, in 1963; and Phillips, in Gilesgate Moor, Durham, from 1973 to 1993 – making glass tubes for televisions, before working his way up to become quality control manager.

He also worked as a caretaker at Neville’s Cross Primary School from 1995 to 2001.

Anyone who can help is asked to call Isobel Lovett, at Irwin Mitchell lawyers, on 0191-279-0104.