A PATHOLOGIST at Frimley Park Hospital failed to spot early signs of cancer in samples taken from a Farnborough man's appendix, the North East Hants Coroner, Mr Andrew Bradley, was told at an inquest at Alton on Tuesday.

More than three years later with 47-year-old Robert Theobald only weeks from death, surgeon David Edwards called for the slides to be looked at again and the mistake was discovered. By that time no treatment was possible.

Questioned by Dr Paul McCormick for Mr Theobald's widow Deborah, Mr Edwards said there would have been a greater chance of survival had the problem been noticed when the appendix was removed in November 1998.

Dr McCormick: "The opportunity was missed to give him a good chance of survival?"

Mr Edwards: "That is correct."

The coroner recorded a natural causes verdict on Mr Theobald, a baker from Ballantyne Road, Farnborough. He said he was not able to conclude that lack of care substantially contributed to his death.

Dr Nicholas Hunt, a pathologist who carried out a post mortem after Mr Theobald died in April, found widespread cancer in the abdomen. He said that one of the slides taken in 1998 showed a small area of tumour. It was standard practice to submit the appendix to a pathologist to look for anything unusual, including tumours.

Mr Theobald made a number of visits to his doctor and to the hospital over the next three years with abdominal pains and problems. But cancer was not diagnosed until he had a scan and an exploratory operation in February.

His widow Deborah described her wedding to Robert on March 7, as "a bitter sweet occasion" as he already knew that he was terminally ill.

"It was only due to his extraordinary determination and will power that he was able to go through with it," she said in a statement read by Dr McCormick. She said they had been made for each other and his death was both tragic and untimely.

Mrs Theobald said her husband had suffered pain following his operation and his stomach had become distended.

"It was clear to me that something was wrong with him and I hoped the hospital would get to the bottom of it," she added. "The doctors just seemed to brush him off."

She said the doctors seemed to pass him from one to the other and then back to their own G.P. Gastro-enteritis was suggested and irritable bowel syndrome. She and her husband decided to pay for a private consultation but shortly afterwards he sharply deteriorated and was taken to Frimley Park Accident and Emergency unit vomiting and in terrible pain. There he had to wait 45 minutes before being seen by a nurse and several hours later he saw a doctor.

After the operation they were told that he had terminal cancer and that the 1998 appendix sample had not been examined properly.

"Not only was he going to die, but he was going to die unnecessarily because the doctors had not noticed the cancer," she concluded.

Dr McCormick said that if it had been noticed treatment would have been prescribed and Mr Theobald might have had a longer life or been cured altogether.

The coroner said that whether there had been neglect was a matter for other courts to decide. If the cancer had been detected in 1998 there was a good chance that he could have been treated appropriately and could have recovered.