Worrying new statistics have revealed that more than 300 Cumbrian men died of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in just 19 years.

The devastating impact the disease had on the county between 1985 and 2004 have emerged in figures released by the Health and Safety Executive.

Cumbria has a high number of asbestos-related deaths due to its rich industrial heritage, particularly in the west and south.

One legal firm which represents many families who have lost relatives to mesothelioma believes the upward trend is worrying.

Ian McFall, head of asbestos policy at Thompsons Solicitors, said: These figures once again highlight the devastation asbestos has inflicted on people in Cumbria. Many of those affected worked in shipyards, factories or building sites and were given no protection or warning about the risks of asbestos exposure despite their employers being fully aware of the danger.

Although shocking, these figures come as no surprise given the widespread use of asbestos in the past.

Sadly, the number of people who will die from this disease will continue to rise until 2020, he explained.

Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos dust and the disease can lie dormant for decades.

Many who are diagnosed with the disease die within months.

The latest figures have also been broken down for the different areas.

For example, in Barrow which had the highest increase a total of 158 people died from mesothelioma during the period from 1985 to 2004, up from 140 between 1981 and 2000.

In Carlisle, the number of deaths rose from 30 to 40 during the same period.

Among the families already taking legal action to secure compensation is the family of Workington electrician Derrick Fisher, who died in 2005, aged 83, from mesothelioma.

His sons are suing the government for up to 100,000 after their father spent much of his career working in dust-filled coal mines packed with the lethal insulating material.

Among the other prominent figures killed by asbestos-related lung disease is former Carlisle headteacher John White, who was exposed to asbestos dust while working at St Cuthberts RC School in Botcherby.

Other high-profile asbestos victims include former mayors Alfred Brumwell from Carlisle and Copelands James Johnston, who was a steel worker.

Cumbria County Council has confirmed at least 200 schools contain asbestos but says there is no risk to staff or pupils.

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