BOOKER prize winning author, James Kelman, has branded the treatment of victims of asbestos related illness “shocking” and “shameful”.

The Glasgow writer who was exposed to asbestos working as a teenager says the thousands of men and women who have contracted potentially fatal illnesses have been badly let down by the employers, insurance firms and the UK Government.

Mr Kelman, who won the top literary prize in 1994 for his novel How Late it Was, How Late, backs the campaigners and politicians calling for fair compensation for victims and their families.

He has been a supporter of their cause for many years and is well aware of the risks people were exposed to.

He recounted his own experience of handling the potentially deadly substance.

He said: “At the age of 19. I worked as a mixer for Turner & Co. in Manchester, producing asbestos by-products.

“Every hour I emptied barrels of raw asbestos fibre into a mixing machine, added cement and water.”

He has not been diagnosed with any related illness but was certainly at risk.

He added: “After each mix I scooped out the residue by hand. A young guy. Who cares about breathing masks and gloves?

“Over a period of months millions of raw fibre were in the air I breathed; a few of those might have entered my body via the pores in my skin.”

Last week the Evening Times reported how people with pleural plaques were being offered full and final compensation deals which prevents them making fresh claims if they contract even more serious conditions like mesothelioma.

The pay outs of around £10,000 to £15,000 prevent a possible future claim of £150,000, using figures in a report by the Scottish Government minister.

Mr Kelman said the long running ordeal of former asbestos workers is a scandal.

He said: “It is shocking to see the treatment received by victims and their families.

“They have been treated scandalously and shamefully, by successive British Governments, by the insurance industry, and by almost every other industry that persisted in using asbestos and exposing their staff and workforces to the dangers.”

Having followed the campaign and met many people who have suffered and died from the effects of working with asbestos, Mr Kelman said it is too late for justice, the damage has been done and is irreparable.

He said: “Those who suffer asbestos-related diseases will have their own ideas on justice. For them there is no cure. No return to health.

“Those who don’t understand the struggle talk about justice but justice cannot happen. The reality is that people are being compensated because there IS no justice. It is too late. Their health has been taken and cannot be returned.”

While campaigns focus on financial recompense Mr Kelman believes not enough action has been taken on against employers who allowed workers to be exposed to risks in the first place.

He added: “They have to cope with a further horror. Their health, and in far too many cases their very lives, have been taken through criminal negligence and those responsible are not being be held to account.”

He is not aware of contracting any asbestos related condition but said exposure to the fibres has certainly had an effect on him.

The same fibres that cause pleural plaques cause terminal disease and he said the insurance industry offering advance pay-outs is proof.

He said: “No Pleural Plaques show on my lungs as far as I know. We discover their existence when our lungs are x-rayed. Mine haven’t been x-rayed for years. In themselves Pleural Plaques don’t damage our capacity to breathe, as far as we know, and are not a precursor to asbestos-related diseases, as far as we know. But psychologically, and to that extent physically, their existence does produce an effect in us.

“Their existence confirms not only that we were exposed to the risk of asbestos poisoning, but that our bodies have been invaded. The poisonous fibres are within us. This makes us more liable to develop an asbestos related disease than those who don’t have any Pleural Plaques. This is borne out by insurance companies offering to pay out a sum of money in advance of any asbestos related disease being contracted.”

He has not written explicitly in novels about the plight of asbestos victims but has penned many essays on the subject.

While writing his Booker winning novel he was a campaigner and the subject provided inspiration for a scene in the book.

He said: “In one section of that novel there is a semi-parody of the horrific situation a victim of asbestos experiences in trying to get an actual diagnosis from a ‘medical expert.”’

Mr Kelman hopes the Scottish Government will adopt recommendations of a research group at Stirling University to give pleural plaques “stand alone” status and allow future claims.

He said it has been supportive in the past compared to the UK Government which he says government “pays only lip-service to the victims and their families”.