DOVES were released into the skies above Queen’s Park today in a moving ceremony held for the rising number of people affected by the so-called ‘Swindon disease’.

The poignant event, marking Action Mesothelioma Day 2017, was also addressed by a doctor who is fighting to improve lives for patients after losing her father to the asbestos-linked condition.

The ceremony took place just days after figures from the Health and Safety Executive showed that deaths from the cruel disease have almost peaked nationally, with Swindon being one of the areas disproportionately affected.

Julien Lloyd, who lost her husband Clifford to the condition, released the doves into the sunshine as around 70 people watched.

Helen Childs, solicitor and head of the industrial diseases team at Swindon-based law firm Royds Withy King, told the crowd the grim legacy is affecting people from all walks of life.

“Mesothelioma is an aggressive, random disease,” she said.

“Sadly instances of mesothelioma continue to rise, it’s not reached its peak yet and over two-and-a-half-thousand lives are lost every year to this terrible disease.

"Swindon bears a disproportionate burden because of its industrial heritage. We in our professional lives are seeing all kinds of people affected by this terrible illness, from pupils and schoolteachers to craftsmen who’ve worked with asbestos to people who worked in the railway works to doctors to nurses to absolutely every walk of life.

"We are constantly overwhelmed and in awe of how you cope with a diagnosis such as this.”

Dr Suzanne Bartington, who lost her father Geoffrey to the disease, also addressed the crowd by the park’s Mesothelioma Memorial Garden.

She said: “We are still seeing an increase in deaths from mesothelioma, we are still seeing lung cancers which may or may not be asbestos-related.

"It’s really important to try and press for those diagnoses because it’s so important to ensure that employers are accountable and families are well looked after.

“That is something my father wanted to make sure happened for myself.”

Dr Bartington, from Oxfordshire, was 27 when her father was diagnosed in 2008.

“He was 59, he was incredibly healthy, he always joked he hadn’t had a day off sick in 20 years,” she said. “It just came as such a shock to myself and my family.”

Dr Bartington was unaware at the time that her father, a successful entrepreneur and businessman, had been exposed to asbestos as a telecoms engineer aged 16.

He lived for another eight months after the diagnosis.

Dr Bartington said: “What I have found has been really, really helpful to me is to meet other families who have been affected by this terribly tragic disease which is why it is so wonderful to be here today to share some of the stories and journeys we have been through.”

The event was also attended by Swindon South MP Robert Buckland, Mayor of Swindon Coun Maureen Penny and Coun Stan Pajack, chair of Queen’s Park Community Council.

Industrial diseases such as mesothelioma have been known as ‘Swindon disease’ because of the fatal legacy of exposure at the town’s former factory workshops.

* Royds Withy King hosts free drop-in legal clinics for anyone affected by asbestos-related illnesses at its offices at 34 Regent Circus, Swindon, SN1, 1PY, every Thursday between 10am and 4pm.