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Former Derby nurse’s family appeals for help with asbestos exposure investigation

Posted on: 29th March 2019

A widow from Derby is seeking answers about how her late husband may have been exposed to deadly levels of toxic asbestos dust during the mid-sixties to mid-seventies.

Harry CoorayHarry Cooray, who worked as a mental health nurse at the Kingsway Psychiatric Hospital in Derby, was only discovered to have been suffering from mesothelioma following a post-mortem into his death in February last year, aged 74.

Harry, who had spent a lifetime in nursing, retired in 2012 and it was shortly after his retirement that his health began to deteriorate. He started to become short of breath and suffered from pain in his bones. The sudden onset of the disease, for a man who had previously been fit and well, was distressing for both him and his family. This distress was exacerbated as the treating doctors were unable to determine the exact cause of his illness or to give a clear diagnosis until after his death.

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of lung cancer, which is only caused by exposure to asbestos. Harry’s widow, Tara Cooray, and their son and daughter are now appealing for his ex-colleagues to come forward with any information about the working conditions at the former Victorian psychiatric hospital between 1966-1975, where he was originally a student nurse but had become a senior staff nurse by the time he left.

The Victorian hospital was known to contain asbestos. In particular, there were runs of hot water pipes with asbestos lagging wrapped around them, forming part of the heating system. This lagging was a white material that looked like a bandage, with strapping holding it in place. The pipes ran above suspended ceilings, comprising white asbestos tiles. The pipes would often leak and when the necessary repair work was carried out, the ceiling tiles and lagging would have to be removed. This caused a lot of asbestos dust to become airborne in areas used by staff.

The boilers in the hospital were also lagged with asbestos and these were removed whilst Mr. Cooray was working there, potentially exposing him further to asbestos dust.

Harry’s son, Janaka, says: “Dad coped with immense courage, stamina and optimism for many years. The rate of deterioration in his health in his final weeks shocked us all. Just after Christmas 2017, he knew his situation was rapidly changing and he said that he did not know if he had two months or two years; he actually had six weeks.

“Dad remained ever optimistic, having faith in medicine, but we were all powerless as everyone including his medical team were unaware that the aggressive mesothelioma cancer had taken hold. We were completely unprepared for his untimely death.

“Dad never spoke about what he was enduring, he was the kind of person who asked you about your life, he had dedicated his life to helping others. Though he was a private man, we think he would have wanted to help someone who is currently experiencing lung problems to contemplate the possibility of mesothelioma developing, in order to help mobilise the right kind of medical practical and emotional support for sufferers and their families.”

Solicitor Isobel Lovett, partner and head of industrial disease at London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen said: “It is likely Mr. Cooray contracted his form of lung cancer as a result of his employers exposing him to asbestos at work and failing to protect him from this deadly substance. We are now appealing on behalf of Harry’s family to all former colleagues who he worked with to come forward and help with the investigation into his exposure to asbestos.”

If you have any information, please contact Isobel Lovett, a Partner and Head of Industrial Disease at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors on 020 7874 8502 or email

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