ISSN 1470-8108 Issue 46 Spring 2002


1. Fairchild 0, Employers 2
2. The T&N Insolvency: Five Months On
3. Human Rights Victory for Serviceman with Asbestos Disease
4. Future Events

1. Fairchild 0, Employers 2

It is unusual for an asbestos case to generate media interest. Journalists do not flock to hear tales of negligent employers, asbestos exposure and fatal lung diseases. However, the injustice of a Court of Appeal ruling in December, 2001 was so obvious that the decision could not be ignored. Victims affected by this judgment and solicitors representing them were interviewed for radio programs, television broadcasts and newspaper articles; columnists Paul Foot and Julie Burchill commented at length in Private Eye and The Guardian respectively. Ms. Burchill, whose father died of mesothelioma in 1998, wrote: "to me there is something especially vile about deaths which happen because someone simply set out to do an honest day’s work, and trusted their employer not to destroy them… because of the Fairchild ruling employers can now admit that they knowingly exposed workers to asbestos and walk away without having to pay a penny in compensation."

During 2001, UK asbestos victims suffered one blow after another. On January 10, the UK’s biggest insurer of industrial risks was declared insolvent, on February 1 the High Court decision on Fairchild was announced, on October 1 T&N Ltd., formerly Britain’s largest asbestos group, was put into administration and on December 11, the Court of Appeal upheld the Fairchild decision. For those with suspicious minds, it is becoming easier and easier to see a pattern in these developments, one which ensures that victims are left to bear the costs of corporate profits generated by the lucrative trade in asbestos products during the last century. On January 18, the audience in a packed assembly room at Clydebank Town Hall heard presentations by MP Tony Worthington, MSPs Des McNulty and Duncan McNeil, Solicitor Advocate Frank Maguire and Professor Andrew Watterson documenting the scale of the injustices inflicted upon Scottish asbestos victims. Statistics reveal that more than 1,800 Scots have died from asbestos-related disease since 1997. The area of highest risk in Scotland is Clydebank, the location of Turners Asbestos Cement Factory from 1928-1970. Inverclyde, Glasgow, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire are also asbestos hotspots due to local employment in shipbuilding, railway engineering, manufacturing and at the dockyards. Maguire discussed the implications of the Fairchild ruling for Scottish claimants explaining that: "The Court of Appeal Judgement in England although persuasive is not binding under Scottish Courts. We are proceeding with Scottish cases distinguishing Fairchild on the medical evidence and legal reasoning. One case is currently proceeding before Lord McKay and the hearing of evidence is continued to mid March."

A rally, organised by several northern asbestos victims groups, and attended by over 400 members of the public was held in Manchester on February 8. Emotions were high, as the audience heard speeches detailing setbacks for asbestos claimants over the last 13 months. A resolution to continue the campaign for justice for asbestos victims was unanimously adopted. Plans for a Parliamentary lobby were also discussed. Organizer Anthony Whitston said: "We have no doubt that the TUC will respond to a call for a lobby of Parliament from so many bereaved families and asbestos victims, most of whom were trade union members before being struck down by asbestos diseases in their retirement." According to Councillor Mike Hubbard, the Secretary of the Barrow Trades Union Council (BTUC): "Fairchild is a disgrace which has affected local people… Loads of cases at the moment are being held up because of Fairchild." To address the implications of the ruling for asbestos victims and their families in the North of England, the BTUC organized a meeting which was held, in conjunction with the AEEU and the GMB trade unions, on February 13. Former shipyard workers, laggers and asbestos removal engineers and the bereaved relatives of many asbestos victims were addressed by union officials and Solicitors Diane Hawkins and Ian McFall. Plans for a delegation from the Local Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering to meet Minister Nick Brown and Dr. Alan Whitehead, Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, in London on February 25 were announced.

When the news first broke about the Fairchild appeal, 78 MPs expressed their grave concern "about the implications for asbestos-induced mesothelioma sufferers and their families" in Early Day Motion 557. A groundswell of anger which had built up over the Commons Christmas break overflowed during a ninety-minute adjournment debate at Westminster Hall on January 16, 2002 as evinced by some of the MPs’ comments:

Michael Clapham: "The hammer blow for sufferers of asbestos-related disease was delivered in the Court of Appeal on 11 December 2001 as a result of the Fairchild case… The court decision was a scandal."

John Battle: "The courts and the companies seem to be mocking the victims."

Tony Worthington: "The law made itself an ass in that case."

Stephen Hepburn: "The recent judgment in the Fairchild case only adds insult to injury… The Fairchild judgment is unfair; it denies justice to people with mesothelioma…"

Kevan Jones: "The effect of the Fairchild judgment in the north-east has been to stop many former shipyard workers living in Jarrow and Durham, for example, getting any access to justice".

Responding to the parliamentarians, Dr. Alan Whitehead said: "The Fairchild judgment… frankly seems to lack justice in terms of people’s judgment of the concept of a just outcome to a certain event." This echoes a reaction given by the Government one month earlier. Robin Cook, Leader of the Commons, stated: "(I) can understand the sense of injustice and hard feeling experienced by those who lost such a case. I can see that the implications of the principle contained in the judgment could go much wider than such cases… I hope that a way forward can be found that will not deny remedy and justice to those involved." More recently, on January 23, Prime Minister Blair confirmed "that the relevant Department is studying the implications of the judgment…" The outrage expressed by Nigel Bryson, Director of Health and Environment for the GMB trade union, was typical: "The Fairchild judgment - if allowed to stand - will save the insurance industry massive amounts, while leaving those dying from asbestos with nothing… The GMB deplores this decision and we will move heaven and earth to get justice for asbestos victims." George Brumwell, General Secretary of UCATT, was appalled: "This lets off scot-free employers who negligently expose workers to this killer dust, just because we can’t identify which single fibre has caused the cancer." While asbestos victims, solicitors, campaigners, politicians and trade unionists condemned the Court of Appeal verdict, employers and insurers savoured it; the precedent could, at a stroke, bar most multi-defendant mesothelioma claims in the UK as well as legal actions for asthma and other occupational cancers.

At the center of this maelstrom is the Court of Appeal decision handed down on December 11, 2001, by Lord Justices Brooke, Latham and Kay in six linked appeals commonly referred to en masse as the Fairchild action. Five of the cases were brought on behalf of mesothelioma victims; Babcock International Ltd. v. National Grid Company Ltd. was brought by former employers of mesothelioma victim John Hussey. The defendants in the six cases included employers and occupiers of premises at which asbestos was used or liberated. Mrs. Judith Fairchild, the plaintiff in the lead case, was suing three defendants for the premature death of her husband, Arthur Fairchild. Upholding the logic espoused by the lower court in Fairchild, the Appeal Court Justices refused damages to claimants Fairchild, Fox and Matthews on the grounds that mesothelioma "is a single indivisible disease… and a claimant cannot establish on the balance of probabilities when it was he inhaled the asbestos fibre, or fibres, which caused a mesothelial cell in his pleura to become malignant." Closing yet another door to asbestos claimants, the Court of Appeal found that "no liability attaches to an occupier of premises… from the mere fact that the workmen in these cases (Babcock, Fairchild and Dyson) were exposed to asbestos dust in premises of which they (the defendants) were the occupiers."

Solicitor Richard Meeran says the Fairchild logic is untenable: "If two thugs attacked and killed someone in the street, it is inconceivable that they would both get off the hook just because it could not be established which of them had delivered the fatal kick!" Meeran believes the Court failed to grasp the medical evidence. In a commentary published in the Journal of Personal Injury Litigation, Meeran wrote: "Curtis J. appears to have misunderstood the one secure piece of knowledge about mesothelioma - that the risk of contracting it does increase with dose - instead concluding only that it may do." Solicitor Adrian Budgen, writing in the Irwin Mitchell Newsletter, noted: "The three medical experts in the case now believe the judge misunderstood their agreed written evidence…" Two letters in the current edition of Thorax support the view that Justice Curtis had "been persuaded to accept a naïve view of causation - that disease has one ultimate cause." The first letter, by Professor Anthony Seaton, formerly head of the Institute of Occupational Medicine, concludes: "Thus, attribution of blame should be on the basis of relative intensity and duration of exposure in different trades." The second letter is, perhaps, more central to the debate as it is written by the three medical witnesses who testified before Mr. Justice Curtis; Robin Rudd, John Moore-Gillon and Martin Muers agree with Professor Seaton saying: "The medical evidence presented to the Court made it clear that the risk of mesothelioma increases in relation to the dose of asbestos and that it is not possible to identify the particular fibre or fibres involved in the genesis of a particular mesothelioma. From an epidemiological standpoint it is therefore appropriate to regard all sources of significant exposure as having contributed to causation of the disease, in the same way that all cigarettes smoked would be considered to have contributed to causation of lung cancer."

The first ruling in Fairchild (February 1, 2001) had been such a departure from precedent, that most observers felt confident it would be overturned. The shock of the December decision was thus all the greater when the "perverse and absurd judgment" was upheld. To make matters worse, the only appeal granted snatched £155,000 of compensation from claimant Edwin Matthews. Speaking to journalists outside the Royal Courts of Justice on December 11, Matthews said: "I feel cheated. This is not really my money as I see it. It was for my family. We are now faced with probably having to sell our house." On July 11, 2001, Mr. Justice Mitting had ordered two of the three employers which had negligently exposed Matthews to asbestos, Associated Portland Cement and British Uralite PLC, to pay this sum. The "robust and pragmatic approach to causation" adopted by Mitting did not find favour with their Lordships whose main concern seemed to be the financial repercussions of holding extant companies liable for negligent behaviour of defunct tortfeasors. Although leave to appeal to the House of Lords was denied, Matthews, Fox and Fairchild submitted petitions. On January 30, the House of Lords agreed that the Matthews and Fox appeals would be heard on April 22 & 23, 2002. On January 31, the Lords initially rejected the Fairchild petition; by February 8 they reversed this decision and agreed to hear the Fairchild appeal on April 24.

At the February 12 meeting of the Asbestos Sub-Committee of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, the Fairchild judgments were discussed at length. MPs Michael Clapham, John Battle and Ian Stewart were outraged by the injustice to mesothelioma victims and unanimous in calling for the Government to act. On February 13, Tony Blair told the House of Commons that the Appeal Court Fairchild judgment was "widely perceived as an injustice." Responding to a request from MP Caroline Flint, he announced that plans have been made to assist mesothelioma sufferers who, as a result of Fairchild, will not receive civil compensation. In a written answer to a Parliamentary Question, Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, explained the plans for his department to extend The Pneumoconiosis (Workers’ Compensation) Scheme 1979 under which a lump sum payment is made to "people who are unable to take court action to recover damages." He added: "I am discussing with colleagues in government what further action might be taken (in) the longer term in response to the Fairchild judgment." A statement by Frances McCarthy, the President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, welcomed the Government’s plans albeit with serious reservations: "While the Government’s action will undoubtedly bring some interim relief to victims of this terrible disease, damages paid under the Pneumoconiosis Act are limited, which means asbestos victims may not receive the full damages to which they are entitled by law. The real power to redress this horrendous situation has to lie with the House of Lords." There is widespread concern that age-dependant payments made under this scheme would be meagre for most mesothelioma victims and unavailable to those whose exposure was environmental or domestic. However, at the very least this initiative could ensure that payments would be received by some of those affected by the Fairchild judgments sooner rather than later. If the House of Lords reverses the decisions of the lower courts, there is no reason why claimants who received government money could not then bring a civil case.

2. The T&N Insolvency: Five Months On

In the months since T&N, Ltd. went into administration (newsletter issue 45), nothing has been resolved for asbestos plaintiffs whose compensation checks have bounced or whose cases have been trapped somewhere in the never-never land of the UK judicial system. Feelings of anger and frustration have been expressed at public meetings in Scotland and England, in the national and local media and in Westminster. As the T&N purse remains resolutely closed by court order, the same question is being asked over and over again: why can’t the injured bring compensation claims against T&N’s insurers? Attempting to clarify T&N’s insurance history, Journalist Laurie Kazan-Allen interviewed Simon Freakley, head of the UK administrators of the T&N Group on January 16. Freakley explained that as an administrator his job was to maximise the funds available to T&N’s UK creditors; asbestos victims were an important subset of this group. Neil Griffiths, a lawyer representing the administrators, was also present at the meeting to ensure that no comprising disclosures were made about the company’s insurers. Griffiths warned that publicity over complex insurance issues could provide loopholes through which insurers might seek to escape their liabilities thus diminishing the available assets. According to Griffiths, the administrators had been researching the tangled insurance web of T&N and its subsidiaries for some time; they were collating and analysing the evidence obtained to meet various February deadlines set by the Registrar of The Companies Court for the submission of reports on the "company’s past insurance position and whether or not the claim of the applicant is covered by insurance."

In addition to the pressure from the Court, MPs were becoming increasingly insistent that the administrators disclose relevant information. John Battle, the MP for Leeds, West posed a series of detailed questions arising from T&N’s "murky" insurance history during a thirty-minute adjournment debate on January 10, 2002:

"Could it be that there is a massive question mark over Turner & Newall’s insurance cover?"

"Why do my constituents and other victims not now have access to that insurance fund (£1 billion of cover) with their claims?"

"Why cannot it (the insurance cover) be ring-fenced and made available (to UK victims)?"

"This issue is absolutely crucial: has Turner and Newall provided proper insurance cover for itself, or not? If it has not, why has the company not been investigated for failing to comply with the law? Why is it allowed to sidestep its legal insurance responsibilities?"

"If it (T&N) does have insurance, why are payments to those owed compensation now being denied?"

"Why is it not possible for claimants’ (legal) representatives to see the (Employers’ Liability) certificates?"

"Why cannot we know about the history of Turner and Newall’s employer’s liability coverage?"

Less than a week later, other MPs joined Battle in condemning the behaviour of "corporate spivs" guilty of "corporate manslaughter" and repeated his demands for a public enquiry during a remarkable ninety-minute debate in Westminster Hall. Tony Lloyd, MP for Manchester, Central, a former employee of Turner and Newall, criticized the firm saying: "The Government must satisfy themselves as to whether the company was legally insured under the national employers obligation scheme. That is central to the argument, because if it was not, the company should have been prosecuted for that failure, and if it was, that insurance should now kick in." Lloyd’s censure extended to the insurance industry itself: "There are huge questions about the irresponsibility of the insurance industry. Insurance, by its nature, is about the taking on of risk, and about making payments when that risk goes wrong. The insurers try to ensure that they take the money at the front end, but attempt to deny liability in all circumstances." Dr. Alan Whitehead, representing the Government, attempted to reassure the Chamber: "I know that legal specialists are working hard to resolve the insurance position."

Developments in Scotland overtook the administrators’ research in mid-January. According to a T&N memo, the Royal Insurance Company Ltd. provided Employers’ Liability certificates as stipulated by the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act from 1972-77. This memo was used to great effect by a Scottish solicitor at a public meeting held in Clydebank. Frank Maguire exhibited the memo and demanded that the insurance company "honour its obligations" to former shipyard employees who are now suffering from asbestos-related diseases. Furthermore, Maguire explained that: "Insofar as asbestos victims are concerned, under the terms of the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 and the 1971 regulations following thereon, asbestos liabilities could not be excluded in any such policy as a matter of law." A response by the Royal and SunAlliance Insurance Group plc (RSA), the UK’s third largest insurer and the company which absorbed Royal Insurance, confirmed that an internal investigation was underway into these "complex and serious" allegations and that "an appropriate statement" would be made in due course. Within a few days, the insurers had changed their tune; the BBC reported: "the insurance company insisted the Royal had not broken the law. The company excluded asbestos-related injury because it was a risk it was not willing to underwrite and Turner and Newall was self-insured against asbestosis." Magurie says that this statement shows a basic misunderstanding of the law; whatever agreement existed between Turner & Newall and the Royal, asbestos victims retain a right against insurers, in this case the Royal, under the 1971 regulations. On February 5, the RSA massively strengthened their reserves for asbestos claims: "we have increased our asbestos provisions by £371m. Of that amount, £200m relates to policies written by our UK subsidiaries and £171m to policies written by our US subsidiaries… Business written in the UK comprises two main blocks. Firstly, US risks written in the London Market and, secondly, UK risks written in both the London Market and in the UK regions… In the UK, development of asbestosis and mesothelioma is expected to follow a different pattern from that in the US, being currently less developed, but due to the later withdrawal of asbestos and related products from the market, is likely to have a later peak of incidence of disease."

On February 15, the administrators released information on the insurance cover provided by the Royal and other insurers in a document submitted to the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division in London in the case of Mr. "L" v Newalls Insulation Company Ltd. According to the report, T&N Limited and Subsidiaries - Insurance Policies Relevant to Asbestos Claims by UK Employees, a copy of the Royal policy, which covered the period 1 October 1969 - 31 March 1977, has not been found. A copy of the Record of Employers' Liability Insurance, as provided by the Royal, states that the policy: "does not apply to or include liability in respect of pneumoconiosis or pneumoconiosis accompanied by tuberculosis. The Policy defines ‘pneumoconiosis’ as ‘fibrosis of the lungs due to asbestos dust and includes the conditions of the lungs known as dust reticulation’. It is believed that not all asbestos related diseases fall within this definition." If Maguire is correct, this exclusion is illegal; if, he is not, and the exclusion is enforceable, claims for asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, pleural thickening and pleural plaques might still be brought.

The administrators’ report also mentioned Employers’ Liability policies issued by the Midland Assurance Limited from "at least 1931 until 1 October, 1969." As copies and information on these policies could not be located, it is not known whether there were asbestos exclusions. An unpublished manuscript by Barrie N. Barker on T&N’s insurance history sheds some light on this subject. Barker quotes from the minutes of a T&N Board meeting in 1950: "our present policies with the Midland Employers’ (sic) covered Common Law claims brought against us by our employees, such claims being based on negligence and/or breach of statutory duty, but Common Law claims in respect of asbestosis are still excluded from these policies." Barker also writes: "It has been conceded that T&N are not entitled to an indemnity in respect of asbestosis claims (from the Midland) because claims in respect of asbestosis are specifically excluded by the endorsement to the Employers’ Liability policy… claims in respect of carcinoma are not excluded by the wording of the endorsement…" In light of the Barker report, it seems unlikely that the administrators are correct when they say: the "Midland Policy contained an exclusion for asbestos related liability." This interpretation would also appear to be undermined by the multi-million pound sum paid to T&N by the Eagle Star Insurance Co. Ltd. (which had absorbed the Midland) to settle "all past and future occupational disease claims" in 1990. Why would the insurers have paid T&N such a large sum to cap their liabilities if all asbestos claims had been excluded?

It is undeniable that tracing insurers for scores of T&N subsidiaries over more than seven decades is a daunting task. The research is not assisted by confidentiality clauses inserted by T&N in settlement agreements reached with various insurers. It is known that: "the settlement with the Midland contains a confidentiality provision preventing disclosure of its terms except under compulsion of law." It’s not known if the administrators and their solicitors have the authority to force disclosure of the agreement. Non-disclosure was central to another agreement reached in 1990. In return for a total of £1 million paid in respect of costs by Lloyd’s of London insurance syndicates, T&N waived £300 million of indemnity cover for all past, present and future US asbestos building claims. One participant in the negotiations remarked that the final settlement was a "complete surrender" by T&N; he speculated that the company was frightened by the possibility of the insurers mounting a material non-disclosure defence and the effect high-profile litigation could have on the company’s share value.

Information on Employers’ Liability cover issued by Winterthur International Ltd. (1998-2002), New Hampshire Insurance Company (1995-1997) and the Lloyd’s of London Bryan Smith Syndicate (1977-1995) was also included in the administrators’ report along with some basic facts about asbestos cover provided by Curzon Insurance Ltd. The mysterious off-shore Curzon policy has generated much interest since T&N went into administration. At that time, it was known that a £500m asbestos liability insurance policy had been taken out by T&N in 1996 with Curzon, T&N’s captive insurance vehicle. Under the terms of the policy, the insurance would be triggered only when the aggregate cost of claims made or brought after June 30, 1996, where the exposure occurred prior to that date, exceeded £690m. According to the documents released in February: "this insurance applies to Asbestos Claims made or brought anywhere in the world at any time after the Inception Date of this Policy." The term of policy CZ7/96 ASB/096 is from "1 July 1996 without time limitation." Claims under US workers’ compensation statutes are specifically excluded, however US and UK product and public liability claims and Employer’s Liability claims by UK employees are not. A second insurance report by the administrators is expected towards the end of February; it will document T&N’s Public and Product Liability policies.

Asbestos claims have wreaked havoc amongst US defendants over the last twenty years. Despite the asbestos-induced Chapter 11 reorganizations of such major corporations as Pittsburgh-Corning, Fibreboard Corporation and Armstrong World Industries Inc., European insurers have, on the whole, remained sanguine about their own exposure. An official from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) commented a few years ago that asbestos was, in the face of fire, theft and burglary claims, a very minor consideration. A commentary entitled: Surviving the Asbestos Epidemic, which appeared in Insurance Digest (December, 2001), expresses a very different opinion. The author, Nylesh Shah, a Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, estimates that asbestos-related liabilities for European insurers could range from £20-£50 billion for people already exposed; liabilities for claims from people currently being exposed to asbestos, such as building and demolition workers, have not been calculated. Shah recommends: "Insurers therefore need to undertake a root-and-branch analysis of their potential liabilities, including detailed examination of all relevant contract and claims histories, some of which may date back as far as the 1940s." He points out that as the European mesothelioma epidemic takes hold "it is becoming far easier for European workers to seek industrial injury compensation through the courts," and warns that the harmonization of EU employment law could produce "binding European-wide rulings on asbestos exposure, opening the way for more US-style class actions." The collapse of UK insurers Builders Accident Insurance, Ltd. in 1998 and Chester Street Insurance Holdings Ltd. in 2001 were the tip of the iceberg: "The crippling claims and spate of bankruptcies that have marked the mounting asbestos epidemic in the US offer a stark warning for insurers on this side of the Atlantic. The most testing years are still to come… Individual firms, regulatory authorities and industry-wide bodies need to prepare now or face potentially disastrous financial and reputational damage."

3. Human Rights Victory for Serviceman with Asbestos Disease

A High Court decision handed down on January 22, 2002 is likely to open the floodgates to claims from former service personnel previously barred from suing the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The verdict could bring to an end the glaring inequality whereby all injured civilian MOD workers and members of the armed forces with exposure or injuries after 1987 enjoy the full range of civil rights while government employees with pre-1987 exposure do not. The landmark case was brought by asbestos claimant Alan Matthews who alleged that from 1955-1968 he was exposed to asbestos on board various ships as a Royal Navy electrical engineer. Barrister Robert Weir, representing Mr. Matthews, claimed that a statutory bar on this case infringed his client’s rights to a fair hearing and damages in tort as stipulated by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act (HRA).

Acknowledging that "the outcome of a number of large group actions is said to be dependent on the success of this challenge," Mr. Justice Keith approached "this case with a keen sense of its importance." Setting out the arguments and findings relating to issues such as retrospectivity, procedural bar, state service and proportionality, the Judge concluded: "I do not think that the restriction on the right of access to the courts contained in section 10 satisfies the test of proportionality." Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 was "incompatible with the Claimant’s rights under Art. 6(1) of the Convention." Furthermore, Art. 2(1) of the Convention provides: "Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law." As exposure to asbestos can result in fatal diseases, the State and, in this case the MOD, are obliged to take appropriate steps to safeguard life. The failure to protect Mr. Matthews amounted to negligence or breach of statutory duty. The subsequent proposal by the Secretary of State to issue a certificate which would, in effect, restrict Mr. Matthews’ conventional remedy for the infringement of his right to life and force him to accept a remedy which was "wholly inadequate" was invalid.

Fundamental to the MOD’s defence was a fifty year old patchwork of judicial rulings and legislation regulating the rights of armed forces personnel. Although the Crown Proceedings Act (CPA) 1947 ended Crown immunity for personal injury claims by civilian government employees, Section 10 preserved State immunity from claims by servicemen. This privilege was eroded in 1987 when the CPA was repealed. Members of the armed forces were now allowed to bring claims for injuries or exposures which occurred after 1987. The fact that the law was not retrospective meant that victims with earlier claims were still prohibited from seeking common law damages. Because of the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases, the overwhelming majority of asbestos claims stems from before the cut-off date. The 1987 starting point effectively barred all asbestos lawsuits from military personnel.

Reaction to the ruling has been low-key. Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, Barrister Weir said the verdict was a "powerful encouragement" for Parliament to incorporate all facets of the Convention into UK law. Cliff Poole, Mr. Matthews’ solicitor, is: "delighted that this case has succeeded. The Judgment ensures equality of treatment for ex-military personnel who served their country alongside their civilian counterparts but have been unable to obtain damages.  Asbestos Claimants are not the only group to benefit.  Other servicemen and women who have been injured and traumatised in other conflicts prior to 1987 should now have their day in court." The way could now be open for veterans traumatised during the Falkland Island war and others exposed to radiation during nuclear tests at Christmas Island to consider legal action. A MOD spokesperson has confirmed that the Matthews case is being appealed.

4. Future Events

March 7: Tickets to the conference: Asbestos & The Law will cost £250 each with all proceeds going to the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group. According to Andrew McDonald, the Chairman of this event: "the day is aimed at solicitors as part of their CPD training." Speakers at the Liverpool meeting will cover a range of subjects including medical issues, welfare benefits, judicial developments, proposed asbestos legislation and the insurance history of T&N Ltd. For more information contact McDonald by email:

April 10: The London Hazards Centre is holding a meeting: Asbestos - It’s Still a Killer in Room 3E of the University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1 starting at 6:30 p.m. MP Michael Clapham and three other speakers will be discussing: "what can be done to ensure full compensation to victims and their families." For information please phone: 020 7794 5999.

April 16: A one-day GMB Asbestos Conference will be held at Congress House, London. Topics to be covered include: Managing Asbestos in Buildings, Government Policy, Asbestos Protocol for Local Authorities, Surveying Buildings for Asbestos and Improving Asbestos Controls. For information visit the GMB website:

April 16: A three-hour seminar entitled: Asbestos: International Update on a Dying Industry and a Health Time Bomb, organized by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, will start at 4 pm; admission is free. Speakers from Brazil, Australia, Kazakhstan, the USA, Holland and England will assess recent asbestos developments in their countries. As places are limited, please confirm attendance by email to:

April 19: Asbestos in the Work Place - The Continuing Problem, a one-day conference being run by the Sheffield and Rotherham Asbestos Group (SARAG), will cover medical, regulatory and general issues. The meeting will be held at Ponds Forge, Sheffield; admission is free. Closing date for registration is March 31, 2002; contact SARAG (Conference), Unit 311, Aizlewood’s Mill, Nursery Street, Sheffield S3 8GG.

June 20: The session: Mesothelioma Clinical Trials, organized by Clydeside Action on Asbestos, will be held at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine from 5-9:30 pm. For more information on this event, please phone Phyllis Craig at: 0141 552 8852.


Article 3, issue 45 stated that: "the number of mesothelioma cases increased by 67% from 1059 in 1990 to 1776 in 1999." These figures were incorrectly quoted; the statement should read: "the number of mesothelioma cases increased by 78% from 895 in 1990 to 1595 in 1999."


Compiled by Laurie Kazan-Allen
Ó Jerome Consultants