Appeal for people who worked in Ilford in the 70s to come forward after man dies from asbestos-related cancer

PUBLISHED: 18:12 02 May 2019 | UPDATED: 18:32 02 May 2019

Gary and his wife Cary in the late 1970s. Picture: Wallace family

Gary and his wife Cary in the late 1970s. Picture: Wallace family


A heartbroken widow is devastated after losing her childhood sweetheart to asbestos-related cancer.

The couple with their three grandchildren, Olivia, 4, Hunter, two and 18-month-old Ivy. Picture: Wallace familyThe couple with their three grandchildren, Olivia, 4, Hunter, two and 18-month-old Ivy. Picture: Wallace family

Gary Wallace, 61, died from mesothelioma, a fatal and aggressive disease caused by exposure to deadly asbestos – just four weeks after being diagnosed.

Gary believed he was exposed to the toxic dust as a teenager in the early 1970s while working as an apprentice carpenter at Hammond and Miles in Ilford.

But it wasn't until 2016 that he realised something was wrong.

After developing pain in his left shoulder an x-ray revealed lethal asbestos fibres outside of his lung, but he was told there was nothing to worry about and he would be regularly monitored.

Gary fishing. Picture: Wallace familyGary fishing. Picture: Wallace family

He remained in relative good health until early 2018 when he started to feel breathless and have back problems.

The father-of-two and grandfather-of-three was rushed to hospital in July with a lung infection and later diagnosed with mesothelioma -he died just four weeks later.

His wife Cary is now appealing for others who may also be affected to come forward.

“He was my best friend,” she said.

“We were together for 43 years and I've been with him since we were 16 years old.

“To see him deteriorate so quickly was simply horrific. From the day we called that ambulance to the day he died was six very short weeks.”

Cary said Gary never took a day off work due to ill-health and was always joking.

“He doted on his family, especially his three grandchildren who were all with him right up to the very end,” she added.

“He will never get to meet the two more that are on the way.

You may also want to watch:

“He always got on with everybody - I was overwhelmed by how many people came to pay their respects at his funeral - there were more than 250 people there.

“To lose him so quickly, in the way that we did, was just heartbreaking. He was my whole life and really was the world to me.”

The West Ham fan with a passion for fishing believed he was exposed to asbestos during his five-year apprenticeship in Ilford

Before his death, he told how he was required to cut asbestos boards, mix dry asbestos powder into paste to lag pipes and sweep up the deadly dust on a daily basis.

Gary later worked as a contractor for Hammond and Miles in schools and buildings where he said the use of asbestos was also commonplace.

Over the course of his career, he also worked in close proximity to other tradesmen who regularly worked with and around asbestos.

“Gary always knew he wanted to be a carpenter and was such a hard worker,” she said.

“He'd done jobs on everyone's houses and was planning to start on ours this year.

“He had mentioned working with asbestos in the past but he never really talked about it until the diagnosis.”

Lawyers at Slater and Gordon, who are acting on behalf of the Wallace family, are encouraging people who may have worked with Gary to come forward.

Industrial disease specialist John Browne said: “Asbestos was widely used until the 1980s and employers should have been aware of the risks it posed and taken appropriate action to protect their staff.

“Sadly this was not the case for many, many people.

“Mesothelioma is a truly awful disease and can lie dormant for many decades before symptoms appear.

“Gary was exposed to deadly asbestos fibres in his teenage years and while he had many happy years with his wife she ultimately lost him far too soon and incredibly quickly.

“That's why his family is appealing to anyone who remembers working with Gary or at Hammond and Miles around that period to get in touch as they may hold vital evidence to help us piece together exactly what happened.”

Contact or call 0161 383 3831

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ilford Recorder. Click the link in the yellow box below for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years, through good times and bad, serving as your advocate and trusted source of local information. Our industry is facing testing times, which is why I’m asking for your support. Every single contribution will help us continue to produce award-winning local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Thank you.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Ilford Recorder