One of Liverpool’s largest employers is facing legal action after a former worker died following exposure to lethal quantities of asbestos.

Mother-of-seven Isabel O’Neill, 74, was diagnosed with a vigorous cancer linked to toxic asbestos materials. Suspicion has now fallen on the Jacob’s Biscuits factory on Long Lane, Merseyside, as the source of her contamination.

Mrs O’Neill, of Aintree, who was married to her husband Dennis for more than 50 years, was a relief worker at the factory between 1976 & 1982. Now her son Mike O’Neill, 52, has begun legal action in a bid to bring those who exposed his mother to asbestos to justice.

Mr O’Neill, of Huyton, Liverpool, said, “My mum did suspect Jacob’s was where she came into contact with asbestos because a lot of her friends who worked there had contracted cancer. She came through an age where asbestos was everywhere. By all accounts the site was riddled with asbestos.”

“Mum was a real chatterbox. She used to describe working there. She’d come in and say it was a dusty atmosphere and talk about men coming in and stripping the machines down as the girls worked close by.

“The impression she gave me was that people were working in and around the maintenance men stripping the machines down, stripping air conditioning units down above their heads all while people worked not far away.

“While my mum was working on that site everyone knew how dangerous asbestos was. I feel a real sense of anger that she’s caught something through no fault of her own, something that cut her life short. “She was full of energy. She was healthy, completely independent. She had arthritis but that didn’t stop her getting around. She kept herself fit and healthy and then this devastating illness hit.”

Mr O’Neill, a foster career of 15 years, has urged any of his mother’s former colleagues or people who worked on the site to come forward with information about the working conditions.

He added, “It’s so important that we get some answers, not just for our peace of mind but for other people who have worked in Jacob’s factory as well and been exposed to it as well. There could be dozens, maybe more, who have had their lives shortened and suffered a slow and terrible death through no fault of their own.

“When she was diagnosed with Mesothelioma she was given six months to live. She lived six months to the day. It was a year before her death that she started to complain of pain and loss of weight. The doctors looked into everything that could be causing it. It was only when we ordered a CT scan and paid for it ourselves that it showed up this thing in her chest. That’s when they discovered what it was. 

“But the doctors were looking in totally the wrong place. They were looking in her stomach. She went down hill quite quickly. It was shocking how that disease just overwhelmed her body.”

Slater & Gordon specialist Asbestos & Mesothelioma Lawyer Louise Larkin, who is representing Mr O’Neill said: “This is a tragic case of an active, loving mother and grandmother’s life being cut short because of the actions of a former employer.

“We hope that some of Isabel’s colleagues, or even people who worked on the site during her period there, will be able to help piece together the working conditions to which she was subject. She had described working near large ovens which were lagged with asbestos which were constantly being repaired. We are keen to hear from other employees who can give more information about how the asbestos became airborne.”