AS a child, Caroline Wilcock happily played snowball fights with friends – blissfully unaware the “snow” they were throwing at each other was deadly asbestos dust. Mark Tallentire reports.

“BOWBURN was infected by an asbestos factory which I believe has a duty of care to the people that lived in the vicinity. It was absolutely and completely unjust.

“The people of Bowburn were poisoned with asbestos and it doesn’t stop here – we need to take care of any other people who are in my position.”

The words of Caroline Wilcock: North-East schoolgirl, London college student, globe-trekking fashion designer, ticking time bomb.

When Caroline moved to Bowburn, County Durham, in 1967, aged seven, the town had already had an asbestos factory for about two years, making sheeting and corrugated roofing in common use at the time.

Villagers recall grey-white asbestos dust from the factory falling like snow in June, coating cars and window sills and forcing housewives to dry their washing indoors.

Children threw asbestos dustballs or scavenged lumps fallen off passing lorries to use as “chalk” for drawing hopscotch boards.

Andrew Morgan, Caroline’s lawyer, claims Cape – which ran the factory from 1967 to its closure in the mid-1980s – knew of the dangers of asbestos but “did nothing” to protect its neighbours.

Caroline Wilcock left Bowburn for a London college in 1983 and went on to run her own fashion business and teach design.

She first noticed health problems while living in Shanghai, China, and initially blamed the city’s polluted air.

But she became increasingly prone to coughs, colds and shortness of breath and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2010.

Three years on, she remains fairly well, although with a cough.

By the time she sued, Cape Universal Building Products (CUPB) was long gone and the Bowburn factory long closed.

But, following a 2012 Court of Appeal judgement former, employees have been able to its sue successor companies and Caroline’s case, Mr Morgan says, extends this option to former neighbours.

The result? A claim could be open to any diagnosed mesothelioma sufferer, or a relative if the sufferer has died, who contracted the disease while living in Bowburn between 1965 and 1985.

With about ten per cent of the population thought to be genetically vulnerable to the cancer, Mr Morgan says the number of potential cases over the next 50 years could run into the hundreds.

For Caroline, her settlement represents the climax of her two-year legal battle but not the end.

“It’s been very important for me to push this through.

“I was amazed I was the first person. When I became contaminated with asbestos, there were lots of other people in exactly the same situation and it could have happened to any single one of us.

“I hope that my case now encourages other people in similar circumstances to seek redress.

“I feel I had a responsibility to the community I grew up in to pursue my claim and now to talk about it publicly.

“My case establishes that the people of Bowburn were exposed to the dangers of asbestos 40 years ago and were largely unaware or unable to do anything to protect themselves and their children.

“I am angry that I and other children came into contact with asbestos whilst playing in our village and around our homes and feel certain that my case will not be in isolation.”

What were your experiences of Cape factory-era Bowburn? Call 0191-3844600.

To speak to Field Fisher Waterhouse lawyers, call 020-78614000.