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   Inside Out - North West: Monday 20th January, 2003

ASBESTOS VICTIMS' COMPENSATION BATTLE

Edmond Bracewell
EDMUND BRACEWELL | battles on for life and compensation

Asbestos is Britain’s biggest industrial killer.

Hundreds of people in the North West alone are dying from asbestos-related cancer.

Yet the hazards of the material have been known about for over 100 years, according to Geoff Tweedale from the Manchester Business School.

Geoff says, "The Government knew as early as 1900. The factory inspectors - the employers - must have known at roughly the same time but certainly by 1930."

Edmund’s story

Case study: Nellie Kershaw

Nellie Kershaw worked for Turner and Newall in their Rochdale factory from 1917.

She worked in the spinning room. This took raw asbestos rock and converted it into a host of products.

In 1922, five years after starting work, Nellie fell ill.

By 1924 she was dead.

The inquest which followed Nellie's death was the first on an asbestos worker.

She was the first recorded case of asbestosis.

Turner and Newall was the world’s biggest asbestos producer and had factories in the North West.

Edmund Bracewell (pictured above) from New Moston worked as an asbestos pipe lagger at Newall’s Insulation in Ancoats for just 18 months.

Edmund is dying from mesothelioma. This is a rare form of cancer almost always associated with asbestos.

Edmund describes the extraordinary amount of dust generated when working with asbestos, "I was covered in dust."

"We had a wash but its still on your clothing and hands."

Invisible danger

In such conditions, asbestos fibres can float invisibly in the air.

These are so small that two million would fit on a pin head. Each fibre could induce cancer.

Edmund feels angry that such information was not given to him.

Jennifer Leeming
Jennifer Leeming sees many asbestos related deaths

He says, "I would not have accepted the job knowing it would have damaged my health later in life."

Edmund clearly is not alone. Jennifer Leeming is a North West coroner.

She says, "It wouldn’t be unusual for me to go and sit in Wigan, for example, and do, say, six inquests and all of these in one particular day will be related to asbestos related diseases."

Compensation

Getting compensation for Edmund and other victims should be straight forward. But it isn’t.

Five years ago, Turner and Newall was taken over by an American company called Federal Mogul, which also became responsible for its liabilities.

But in that time, asbestos claims in the States have gone from a handful to a quarter of a million.

Federal Mogul couldn’t survive financially if all the claims had to be paid at once.

They voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. This action puts all the claims on hold, while still allowing the company to trade and make profits.

In Britain, the company went into Administration.

Special case

Administrators and solicitors representing some British victims believe that the seriously ill British people should be dealt with as a special case.

Tony Morris on the telephone
Tony Morris talks to Jim Zamoyski, pictured on the screen

They think British victims should be pulled out of the legal maze so that compensation payments can restart.

Presenter Tony Morris put this question to Federal Mogul’s chief lawyer, Jim Zamoyski.

He declined to give an interview but says, "There’s a lot of US victims as well, so I think they’re all going to be handled at the same time."

Government intervention

One way that the seriously ill British victims may receive compensation more quickly is if the Government step in and make payments now.

When Federal Mogul resolves the case, the Government would get its money back.

Tony Lloyd is a North West Labour MP and former Turner and Newall employee.

He says, "It is not Government who created the problems or who has all the answers."

"What we do want though is Government galvanised across its different departments and to say that Government can bring pressure to bear on those who can unlock this situation."

"But what I can’t promise is that the answer will come tomorrow. It will take time."

Time is something Edmund doesn’t have.

He says, "I think I’ll be dead before the compensation goes through the courts."

Hope

Simon Freakley is in charge of the Administration of Turner and Newall in the UK.

He appreciates the essence of time, saying, "In my experience this case is moving as quickly as any that I’ve seen."

"We’re hopeful that money will start to get into the hands of claimants at some stage during next year."

This is the most encouraging news asbestos claimants have had in a long time.

Anyone wanting help or advice on asbestos related diseases can contact the Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group on 0161 953 4037.

See also ...

Inside Out: North West
More Great Salopians
Gallery

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Asbestos (World Service)

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