A FILM prop master who worked on The Sweeney and Empire of the Sun died due to asbestos exposure, a coroner ruled last Thursday.

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Gordon Billings, of Hill End Road, St Albans, had a history of shortness of breath and coughing and died on August 13 this year at Harefield Hospital from lung cancer.

A biopsy of the left lung carried out at the Royal Brompton on May 28 diagnosed mesothelioma and he was admitted to Watford General Hospital on August 11 before being transferred to Harefield in Middlesex.

An inquest heard that Mr Billings had a career history which would have risked exposure to fibres, including a post at British Rail which involved clearing dust from trains.

His job at Associated British Cinemas and EMI as a prop man saw him regularly cleaning out derelict buildings in East London.

Once or twice a year the 78 year old would sweep up and throw away corrugated sheet metal, known for its asbestos content, in just his regular clothes.

The Welshman, originally from Mid-Glamorgan, said in a witness statement read out by Assistant Deputy Herts Coroner Alison Grief that he was not aware of being exposed to asbestos but that sets were often made alongside him.

While working on The Sweeney in the early ‘70s there were certain areas he could not go into as they were roped off for contamination, and during his time on location for Steven Spielberg movie Empire of the Sun at Greenwich power station he had to sweep dust and debris from the floor.

The assistant deputy coroner ruled the death as due to industrial disease.

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