Obituary: Patrick McCrystal

Patrick McCrystal, shipwright, born 1923, died Glasgow 19 February 1993.

PATRICK McCRYSTAL, a former shipwright, died last Friday in Glasgow from mesothelioma, an incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. McCrystal will be remembered on the Clyde as a man of enormous fortitude and character, and as a committed campaigner for the welfare and rights of asbestos victims. He was also a born teacher and communicator, who took great pride in his trade and inspired listeners with his descriptions of Glasgow's history and the early days of the Clyde. He was also fascinated in how things worked and was one of the rare men who could make the workings of a torque or a lathe sound interesting.

McCrystal was born in 1923 into a large Glaswegian family of Irish extraction. At 16 he signed up as an apprentice with Fairfield Shipbuilding Company, where he was one of the first Catholics to be accepted by the yard. For the next 25 years he worked directly on the ships, before becoming a craft training instructor and eventually moving into management.

It is typical of McCrystal that he even took the trouble to write his own obituary. Here he describes how carelessly asbestos was handled in the shipyards during the Forties and Fifties. Despite the fact that the health inspectorate and the shipyard owners were well aware of the dangers, no protective clothing or masks were ever issued and the men were not warned of the risks.

Boards of asbestos fibre were sawn in enclosed spaces, asbestos cement was mixed by hand, and at Fairfields the powder was even stacked in bales in the shed were the workmen ate their lunches. The engine room and boiler rooms, where asbestos was used as an insulating material and for lagging pipes, were especially polluted. During some stages of production the shipwrights would return home white as bakers from the dust.

Until last year McCrystal hoped that, not having worked directly on the ships since 1965, he might have avoided the terrible consequences of asbestos poisoning. But one morning he woke up very short of breath. Mesothelioma, a cancer of the membrane surrounding the lung, was diagnosed. McCrystal then started his work for asbestos victims.

He was also the victim of a quirk of Scottish law. In Scotland, industrial injury claims for 'pain and suffering' die with the claimant, leaving his or her family with only a fraction of the compensation they would get south of the border. For the insurance companies this clearly provides an incentive to delay, disputing the claim until the last possible moment. Meanwhile for the victims and their families, the last stages of the illness can become a desperate, legal paper chase with death.

At last this anomaly is about to be rectified - and a bill bringing Scottish law in line with legislation south of the border has cross- party support and has already passed its second reading at Westminster.

McCrystal did eventually receive compensation from his employers, with a settlement agreed on the very morning that his case was due to come to court.

McCrystal had been building his own boat, a 43ft ketch and at the time of his death it was very near completion. His dream had been to wile away his retirement sailing to the Mediterranean and then on to Australia - which he had visited while in service during the war. Sadly, he never managed it.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride