A Wycombe man has died after asbestos “came down like snow” on him while he was working in a hotel.

Peter Lea passed away aged 77 at Wycombe Hospital on October 3, 2020, following health complications that were the result of encountering asbestos at work.

At an inquest into his death on Wednesday, Beaconsfield Coroners Court heard how Mr Lea, who lived in High Wycombe, had worked as a lift engineer for most of his life, from when he was 15 years old until he retired.

At the inquest, assistant coroner for Buckinghamshire, Ian Wade, read out a letter from Mr Lea’s wife, where she recalled a time when her hsuband knew he had come into contact with asbestos.

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It said: “In the 1960s or 1970s, there was an occasion when Peter was at the Bedford Hotel, working in the lift shaft.

“A noise started up and he looked up to see white dust like snow coming down. He knew it was asbestos.

“Before he could get out, he knew he must have inhaled it. The workmen were spraying it as fire retardant at the top of the lift shaft and never informed him to get out.

“There must have been other occasions in his working life when he drilled in lift shafts to cause dust, but this is so vivid in my mind, I would never forget it.”

After reading out this letter to the court, where Mr Lea’s wife, daughter and son-in-law were in attendance, he explained that many years ago asbestos was considered a useful substance - before it was known to be harmful.

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He added: “I have no way of knowing if it was that event in that location, with those employers. I cannot assign blame or liability.

“I simply take note that it’s a typical example, and there were many occasions where he came into contact with asbestos.”

Bucks Free Press: Asbestos fibres can have a drastic effect on a person's lungs [PA/iStock]Asbestos fibres can have a drastic effect on a person's lungs [PA/iStock]

A post-mortem showed that Mr Lea had an “abnormal” amount of asbestos fibres in his lungs, suggesting he had been regularly exposed in his working life.

The court heard that in recent years, Mr Lea had struggled with breathlessness and heart problems. Mr Wade explained that this would have been contributed to by his contact with asbestos decades earlier.

Mr Wade determined that the cause of Mr Lea’s death was heart disease and asbestosis, concluding that this was the result of industrial disease.

He said: “Peter had an exceptionally high level of asbestos mineral fibres in his lungs.

“With his occupation as a lift engineer and the known circumstances of him inhaling asbestos fibres while working in a lift shaft, not once, probably many times.

“He found himself in the wrong place where other people were spraying asbestos. The other times he had broken up asbestos. This was all at a time when we didn’t understand how pernicious asbestos was.

“You can breathe this in as a young man and live a normal life for 30 to 40 years. Then something happens and the body starts latching onto the fibres.

“There were a number of things beating him down. This is a diagnosis that is completely and utterly terminal, there’s no reversing it.”