Former Vickers-Armstrong worker’s plea to former colleagues after deadly mesothelioma diagnosis

Published by Swindon Advertiser 4th March 2015

A RETIRED factory worker who spent over 20 years working at the Vickers-Armstrong factory in South Marston is appealing to his former workmates for help in his legal battle after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma – an incurable asbestos-related cancer. Jim Black, 77, a Swindon grandfather, was given the deadly diagnosis in November 2014, devastating him, his wife of 57 years and their family, including two children and four grandchildren.

Mr Black started to feel unwell in September 2014 when he developed a cough and started suffering from shortness of breath. Following a biopsy at the Great Western Hospital he was told that he had mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that has been widely linked to past asbestos exposure, which affects the lining of the lungs.

Mr Black believes he was exposed to deadly asbestos dust while working for Vickers-Armstrong. He started working at the factory at South Marston in 1962, installing rivets and fittings on aircraft. Promoted to service engineer two years’ later, he remained for a further 19 years, leaving the firm in 1983. During his time at Vickers-Armstrong, he was based in the fitters shop in South Marston but was also sent to work on board various cargo and passenger ships, mainly in the Southampton area.

Mr Black said: “The factory at South Marston was huge and there were new buildings being constructed at the airfield during my employment. There was a lot of pipework around the factory, some of which were hot steam pipes lagged with asbestos. The factory had its own maintenance team and there was always ongoing maintenance work on a daily basis. I was also routinely sent out to service passenger ships, small cargo vessels and banana boats, including the QE2 and the Oriana, working in the engine rooms where there was also asbestos lagging in the pipes. This lagging looked like a greyish white paste and I remember having to brush up against it while carrying out maintenance and engineering jobs in cramped, confined spaces for up to seven hours per day. It was always dusty in the engine rooms and myself and my tools would often end up covered in dust. At no time was I provided with any protective equipment and I was never warned about the dangers of working close to asbestos dust.”

Mr Black and his family have now instructed specialist asbestos disease lawyers at Novum Law to help him investigate the working conditions he endured and why he was exposed to the deadly dust during his time working at Vickers-Armstrong.

Helen Grady, an expert asbestos disease solicitor at Novum Law, specialising in mesothelioma cases, said: “Mesotheliomais a particularly aggressive and incurable cancer that causes a significant amount of suffering to victims, like Jim, and their families. It can take several decades from initial exposure to asbestos dust before symptoms develop, so we need help from Jim’s ex-workmates to gather as much information as possible about the working conditions there. It is well established that ships at this time contained a lot of asbestos, especially in the engine rooms, and other engineers may come forward. We are very hopeful that workers from Vickers-Armstrong’s South Marston factory will remember some details relating to the asbestos in the pipes. It is also highly likely that they were also completely unaware of the dangers of asbestos exposure during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Quite understandably, Jim and his family have been left shocked and devastated by his diagnosis and are worried about what the future holds. They are appealing to anyone who worked at Vickers-Armstrong from the 1960s up to the 1980s to come forward. The appeal is for anybody who worked at the South Marston factory in Swindon or who were sent to work on board vessels in the UK or abroad and in particular, workmen who were on the QE2.”

Anyone who can help should contact Helen Grady at Novum Law on freephone 0800 884 0555 or email

Meeting – 10th March 2015 7p.m. Village Hall


South Marston Parish Council has begun the process of developing a formal Neighbourhood Plan to govern the future development of housing and facilities in the expanded village.  To understand why we are doing this, please see the letter from the Chair of the Parish Council below.

Most of the work will involve creating planning policies for the expanded village area based on the proposals already in the draft Supplementary Planning Document for South Marston.  This the document produced by Swindon Borough Council that drew on our past consultation work with the village over many years.

We now want to enhance this with an exploration of potential footpath and cycle networks across the area and to realise the potential of the expanded recreation ground and community buildings at the centre of the village.

An open meeting will be held in the Village Hall at 7pm on the 10 March to take this forward.

We will have current footpath maps available, as well as maps associated with the village expansion.  Please come along and find out more about how to get involved.

NP Map

This is the area we will be considering in developing  the

South Marston Village Neighbourhood Plan.

Information about progress and about meetings of the Neighbourhood Planning Committee of the Parish Council will be available on the South Marston website.   Please contact the Parish Clerk by email on  or on 01793 686150 for more information.




The Parish Council has reached an impasse with the main developers (HHL[1]) on the plans to develop the expanded village.   We, after consultation with the village over many years, want to see an integrated plan that takes account of land controlled by all the different developers and relates well to the existing village.   Swindon Borough Council (SBC) support this aim.   Last  April, HHL, who control most of the land south of the village, finally agreed to work with us and the other developers but failed to follow through on this.   They are also insisting on a new road north of the railway that can take traffic from the new village at Rowborough to the  Keypoint roundabout. We fear that this will result in major delays at peak times.

SBC have now written to HHL saying that their application for permission to develop is not acceptable in its current form.  Rather than than wait passively to see if HHL will comply by submitting appropriate revisions to their plans, we want to take the initiative.


A Neighbourhood Plan  is a statutory planning document that is produced by the community itself.  However, it must comply with the Local Plan for an area.  Swindon’s Local Plan sets out the number and broad locations of new houses to be built in South Marston.  A Neighbourhood Plan can address the layout of the roads, footpaths and green spaces and the overall design principles for the expanded village.

Swindon’s Local Plan is just being formalised, which is why we couldn’t go for a Neighbourhood Plan previously.   It must be written by the Parish Council in conjunction with the village and then checked by Swindon who will publish it for formal consultation.  The next stage is an independent examination by a Planning Inspector to make sure that it is legally correct.   It is then subject to a referendum of the villagers.   It will be a simple question as to whether or not you want the Neighbourhood Plan to govern the future development of South Marston.

If the vote is ‘Yes’, then the Neighbourhood Plan acquires the same status as Swindon’s Local Plan and must be complied with by developers.  If ‘No’, the Swindon planners will have  less power to control how the development goes forward and the village’s aspirations  will be harder to achieve.

This is a contest between community planning and developer expediency.  I hope that you will support us in this venture to ensure we get  high quality development in South Marston.

Colin McEwen

Chair, South Marston Parish Council

[1] HHL is the consortium led by Hallam Land and Hannick Homes that controls most of the land south of the village.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers