At the Coventry Homefire Plant, hundreds of former employees were exposed to harmful dust, fumes, and carcinogenic material during their employment at the plant. Many are still suffering, decades later, with debilitating lung conditions which have severely impacted their quality of life and they struggle to carry out even simple daily tasks.
Ian Godfrey, a fitter and foreman fitter, who worked at the Plant for 18 years said, “The conditions at the plant were horrible and it created lots of pollution in the local area.”
Ian left the plant in 1973 and has since been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Speaking about now living with this disease Ian said: “My condition has meant that I get out of breath when walking around my bungalow and it prevents me from walking to my local shop.”
The Homefire Plant, which was situated about 4.5 miles north of Coventry City centre and about 3.5 miles southwest of Bedworth in the village of Keresley, produced smokeless fuel designed for domestic or household use. The plant was in operation between 1965 and 2000. During this period, it was owned and operated from time to time by the National Coal Board/ British Coal and National Smokeless Fuels Limited.
Until September 1995, the plant produced the smokeless “Homefire” fuel by superheating, or carbonising, crushed coal before pressing it into six-sided briquettes. The manufacturing process changed significantly in September 1995 when the hot carbonisation process was decommissioned and replaced by a cold cure process.
The former owners and operators of the plant admit that exposures to dust, fume, and carcinogenic particulate arising from the operation of the plant prior to 1995 can cause lung diseases including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (also known as emphysema), Chronic Bronchitis, Temporary Exacerbations of Asthma, as well as a form of skin cancer known as Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
They also admit that, for the period prior to 1995, they were in breach of their common law and statutory duties to any former employee who can prove that he suffered with one of the above conditions because of his employment at the plant.
Another former employee, Mr John Lawlor worked at the plant between 1988 and 2000 as a Press Hall Electrician. As a result of his 12-year employment, Mr Lawlor now suffers from COPD.
Speaking about his working conditions Mr John Lawlor said: “The homefire plant was an incredibly dusty, horrible place all over. Before the new process was introduced, the atmosphere was unbearably hot and the air was constantly filled with huge amounts of dust and steam. I regularly complained to the foremen about the conditions, but nothing seemed to change. The paper masks that were provided offered no real protection from the conditions and were essentially unwearable because they quickly became soaked through with sweat.”
Commenting on the effect the Plant had on the local area, John added: “Complaints from local residents were common as their washing lines were blackened by the pollution from the plant on a regular basis. The huge stack spewed out black clouds of smoke that engulfed the local village and the fine coal dust would blow from the stocking grounds on the breeze.”
Ian Godfrey and John Lawlor are among a group of over 50 former Homefire employees (and their relatives) who to date have received over £475,000.00 in compensation, with individual settlements ranging from £2,000.00 to £100,000.00.
Speaking about his compensation, Ian Godfrey said: “My breathlessness really affected my confidence in leaving the house but the compensation I received has enabled me to purchase a brand-new mobility scooter so that I can still get out and about. The compensation I received has been lifechanging and means that I can make purchases like my mobility scooter to help me cope with my condition without having to check my bank statements first.”
John Lawlor commented: “I first noticed that I was becoming short of breath when working at the plant and my health has deteriorated over the years since leaving. I now use two puffers and carry one constantly for when I become short of breath. I sometimes struggle to catch my breath when I wake up in the morning and when walking up stairs. My wife even has to put my socks on for me and I have to use handrails to get out of the bath. I am incredibly pleased that I have received compensation, and above all, it feels good that the damage done to my health by my employment at the plant has been recognised”
Now the specialist team of industrial disease solicitors at Hugh James are urging any former employees suffering from health complications to come forward.
“We urge former Homefire employees and family members of deceased former workers to contact us if they or a loved one has suffered from a health condition which they think may have been caused or made worse by their employment at the plant. As an employer, the Homefire plant failed in its duty of care to protect its employees which has left many with serious and life limiting diseases.”
Hugh James previously recovered several million pounds in compensation for ex-workers and the families of ex-workers of Homefire’s sister plant, Phurnacite, in South Wales. This followed a six-week trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London in 2011