Former pipefitter Ernest Evans died decades after he was first exposed to asbestos during his employment at an engineering firm in Stoke-on-Trent.

The 68-year-old joined Hartleys Ltd at the age of 15, an inquest heard. Mr Evans worked at the company, which changed its name numerous times over the years, until his retirement in 2009.

North Staffordshire Coroner’s Court heard Mr Evans was in good health before suffering a cough last year. His daughter Paula Green said: “He was always in the garden and when he worked, he walked to and from work.”

Mr Evans was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September last year and a month later was admitted to the Douglas Macmillan Hospice for end-of-life care. Mrs Green added: “When we heard of his diagnosis, we were told it was a matter of months. We didn’t expect him to be so seriously ill.

“He lost loads of weight – he wasn’t a big man to start with. It just dropped off him. It was a struggle to get him to eat three meals a day.”

Mr Evans died on October 23 at the Blurton hospice. A post-mortem examination found Mr Evans had a body mass index (BMI) of 12.1 – well under the ‘normal’ range of 18.5 to 24.9 – and was classed as ‘significantly underweight’. A lung squeeze also revealed Mr Evans had asbestos bodies.

Former colleague and friend George Warrilow, gave a statement and said the employees operated in three ‘shops’.

He added: “These were very old buildings. I recall that the walls were made with asbestos sheeting. He worked in shop number one.

“Those working in shop number one used to work with asbestos string.

“It was powdery and when you handled it, you would get powder on your hands and clothes. Due to the nature of the work, Ernie may have come into contact with this product.”

A statement given by another former worker, Raymond Massey, stated that the roofs of the shops were made of corrugated asbestos.

It also read: “During my time with the company, I received no guidance, training or instruction about the risks of exposure to asbestos.”

Assistant coroner Sarah Murphy gave a cause of death of empyema caused by malignant mesothelioma, which is often due to exposure to asbestos dust.

Mrs Murphy said: “The deceased’s condition deteriorated rapidly.

“It is clear from the evidence of George Warrilow that Mr Evans had been exposed to asbestos.

“I accept that the company had not warned the staff about the risks of exposure to asbestos.

“My conclusion is one of industrial disease.”

If you or a family member have been affected by mesothelioma, please contact us on 0800 294 3065 where we will be able to support and advise you in the best way possible.