Man reduced to ‘child-like state’ by accident at work

Hansons Cement in Clitheroe. (s)
Hansons Cement in Clitheroe. (s)

A champion horseman reduced to a child-like state by the traumatic and bizarre effects of a workplace accident has been guaranteed a massive compensation payout.

George Connor, who with his wife Rebecca also ran a pet hotel at their home in Hapton, near Burnley, was exposed to noxious fumes while working at a cement factory in Clitheroe.

Mr Connor – described as a “man of many skills” – inhaled the fumes while doing a welding job in a giant kiln, known as a “cyclone”, in January 2010.

In the weeks after the incident, Mr Connor (53), began experiencing a harrowing range of psychological symptoms, London’s High Court heard.

The events at the Castle Cement Ltd plant – now Hanson Cement – Ribblesdale Works – ultimately reduced him to a shadow of his old self and made him incapable of work.

Mr Connor was a “high functioning” man who had “scuba dived around the world”, managed a kennels and stables and ridden champion horses.

But he had since been stricken by dizzy spells, blackouts and hallucinations and his wife said he could no longer function “independently”.

He has a horror of smoke and fumes and, although now somewhat improved, can barely perform many of the tasks he once did with such excellence.

Before 2010 he was a pillar of strength, Mrs Connor told the court, adding: “Life made him happy and he showed it.

“In every breath he took it produced another smile and in turn he made others smile - a precious gift indeed.”

Although he can now ride to an extent, and even drive a tractor, Mrs Connor said she still feels she must now “keep an eye” on him much of the time.

“She described it as like having the care of a nine-year-old child”, said Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb.

The Connors lived at New Forge Stables, in Hapton, where they ran their pet hotel and had stables.

As well as being a welder and elite horseman, Mr Connor also worked as a farm and general labourer.

Mr Connor sued Castle Cement as well as the company for which he was working at the time and other contractors who were doing a job at the cement works.

But the judge said the three defendants had now reached agreement amongst themselves and breach of duty had been “admitted in full”.

Upholding Mr Connor’s right to damages, the judge ruled he had suffered a “recognised psychiatric disorder” as a result of what happened.

The court heard evidence from an array of psychologists and medical experts before the judge ruled that Mr Connor is suffering from “hysterical pseudodementia”.

Immediately after inhaling the fumes, the judge said Mr Connor had suffered acute chest pain and breathing difficulties.

The “chronic psychiatric/psychological condition” he had endured since was not a result of any organic brain damage.

However, the judge said there had never been any suggestion that he was “feigning or exaggerating his psychiatric condition”.

Describing it as an “unusual and complex case”, the judge said Mr Connor’s condition was both genuine and caused by the incident at the cement factory.

The amount of Mr Connor’s compensation payout has yet to be finally assessed, but it is bound to be a very substantial sum given the dire impact on all aspects of his life.