Second employee 'suffered radiation exposure at firm': After Monday's exclusive report, Tom Wilkie finds another worker who suffered appalling injury Tom Wilkie reports on the case of a trainee radiographer who tried to sue for compensation

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A TRAINEE radiographer suffered massive radiation injuries which destroyed much of his chest. It is the second case to have come to light which involved radiation overexposure to employees of the same company.

Brian Stewart, of Forres in Morayshire, had to have a metal plate inserted in his chest to protect his heart after his ribs disintegrated. He had suffered severe radiation burns. He alleged that his exposure occurred within a month of his starting to work for Metal and Pipeline Endurance Ltd (Mapel) in 1969.

Earlier this week, the Independent revealed that another Mapel employee had died after suffering the biggest dose of radiation of anyone in post-war Britain. William Neilson, of East Kilbride, near Glasgow, who died in 1992, had started working for Mapel about six years after Mr Stewart received his injuries.

Mr Stewart's case was 'one of the most severe accidents involving exposure of an industrial worker to radiation which has occurred in Great Britain', according to a scientific account presented to an international conference on radiation protection in 1973.

In addition to the destruction of his ribs, the skin peeled away from his chest, a deep scab formed without healing, and an area of radionecrosis was detected on his heart muscle. A skin flap from his abdomen had to be grafted on to cover the hole in his chest. He was just 20 when he suffered the radiation exposure.

After his discharge from hospital, Mr Stewart was unable to find work and ended up drawing pounds 16.80 a week disablement pension. His efforts to sue his employers ended in an out-of-court settlement of pounds 2,000. Mapel denied liability for his injuries, as the company has done in the more recent case of Mr Neilson.

Mr Stewart was arrested for possession of cannabis which he claimed he smoked to escape the pain from the gamma radiation burn in his chest. Subsequently he emigrated, either to Spain or Brazil, where he is believed to have died a few years later. His case was not followed up. However, it is believed that his death was not radiation-related.

A spokesman for Mapel said yesterday that 'none of the current management were involved with the company at the time of the incident and I'm not in position to comment until we have gone through our records'.

Inquiries by the Independent have established that Mr Stewart began working for Mapel on 25 August 1969. His initial training consisted of informal discussions with more senior radiographers during the first fortnight. Towards the end of the first week, he was carrying out radiography to check for defective welds in gas pipes. From the second week onwards he sometimes worked without supervision.

On 20 September 1969, less than a month after he started work, the incident which he claimed was responsible for his overdose occurred. He was the last to leave a site near Coldstream in Berwickshire and he placed a radiation source on the front passenger seat of his car without realising that it was exposed and was not safely sealed. He claimed that the padlock which should have locked the source away inside a shielded container was missing and instead it was fastened with a bit of wire. He then drove for more than 20 miles with the exposed radiation source on the seat next to him.

However, a later scientific reconstruction threw some doubt on the feasibility of his explanation and the full details were never brought to light. As the scientific report on his case noted: 'It is unwise to make such sources freely available to untrained, unsuspecting persons and leave them almost completely unsupervised.'