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Landmark Victory in the High Court for Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK

The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK (the Forum) have won a case in the High Court for disclosure of historic documents that could reveal that industry and Government agencies knew far more about the dangers of asbestos products than they revealed.

In February 2017 a 6 week long case concluded in the Royal Courts of Justice between insurance companies, who had previously paid compensation to dying mesothelioma victims, and Cape Distribution Limited and subsidiary companies. The insurers argued that Cape should share the costs of compensation as it was their products that had caused the diseases, and because Cape knew more about the dangers of their products than they had disclosed.

During the course of this case, the Cape companies were ordered to disclose thousands of documents which showed what they knew about the dangers of exposure to asbestos. Both sides made a confidential agreement to destroy these documents at the end of the trial. On hearing this, the Forum instructed Harminder Bains of Leigh Day to apply to the Court to preserve the documents, which Master McCloud granted in April.

At a 3 day hearing in the High Court in October, Counsel for the Forum argued that it was in the public interest that the Forum be given these documents. They could help mesothelioma victims currently pursuing compensation claims in courts. It was also in the wider public interest to learn more about how Cape contributed to the biggest industrial disaster this country has ever seen and how their political lobbying influenced Government safety measures that were supposed to protect the lives and well-being of workers.

In her judgement of 5 December Master McCloud agreed the Forum had a legitimate interest in obtaining the documents, and decided in the Forum’s favour, agreeing disclosure of most of the documents the Forum had requested. She stated that the Forum was “a group which provides help and support to asbestos victims. In some respects it is also a pressure group and is involved in lobbying and in promoting asbestos knowledge and safety. Those are legitimate activities and provide legitimate interest”.

Graham Dring, Chair of the Forum said “This decision is fantastic news. Cape, along with Turner & Newall were the two biggest asbestos companies in this country. Their activities and products exposed thousands of workers and their families to asbestos and caused many deaths from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. It is essential we now find out exactly how much they knew about the dangers of their products and when they knew this. These documents have been hidden for far too long. Cape owe us all an explanation of their role in the biggest industrial scandal to hit this country, a scandal that has not yet run its course with tens of thousands more men and women expected to die from mesothelioma”.

Harminder Bains of Leigh Day, and Rob Weir and Jonathan Butters of Devereux Chambers acted on behalf of the Forum.

Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group (GMAVSG) is a registered charity (1113201).

We offer free and independent advice on benefits and compensation to people with asbestos-related diseases and their families.

We also campaign for better funding for medical research and treatment, fairer benefits and compensation, the removal of asbestos from the places where we work and live, and an international ban on asbestos.

As a small charity, we rely on donations to carry on the work we do. To donate to us, please click here.

Remembering Kevin Lynch

We received the sad news last week that Kevin Lynch, who was instrumental in establishing the Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group, passed away on 17th January 2017. We would like to extend our condolences to Kevin’s family.

Asbestos victims welcome Companies House change of heart on destroying records

Groups representing sufferers of asbestos related diseases have welcomed reassurances given on behalf of the Government that proposals to destroy records of dissolved companies have been abandoned.

The Guardian reported in August that Companies House was planning to destroy the records of companies that had been dissolved for longer than 6 years, overturning their current policy of retaining records for at least 20 years.

This would have been disastrous for asbesos victims seeking compensation for their negligent workplace exposure to asbestos. Asbestos diseases take decades to develop, sometimes for as long as 60 years. Because of this, the negligent employer has usually gone out of business by the time a disease develops. Access to Companies House records on dissolved companies is therefore crucial for victims trying to secure justice.

Moves to delete Companies House records will impede compensation claims from asbestos victims

The Guardian recently reported that Companies House was planning to delete millions of records it holds on dissolved companies. The proposals are to delete records older than 6 years old. There seems to be no pressing need for this, other than administrative convenience, but the consequences for asbestos victims seeking to pursue claims for compensation could be devastating.

Asbestos diseases develop many years after the asbestos exposure that caused them. For example, the average latency period before mesothelioma develops is about 35 years. In the intervening period, the employer who caused the asbestos exposure may have gone out of business. Furthermore, the person who develops the disease may not remember the name of their employer, or know whether the original employer changed its name or was a subsidiary of another company.

Kathleen Ruff honoured by Quebec’s National Assembly

One of Canada’s best known anti-asbestos campaigners has been awarded the prestigious Medal of Honour by Quebec’s National Assembly in recognition of her tireless work campaigning against Canada’s deadly asbestos trade, and her pivotal role in bringing this trade to a halt.

Kathleen Ruff is well known to Forum members but her achievements deserve wider recognition. This award would have been unthinkable until fairly recently. Quebec was the heart of Canada’s asbestos industry, and Canada was one of the world’s leading asbestos producing and exporting countries. To defeat the asbestos industry in Canada the fight would have to be taken to the heart of the beast and Kathleen did this with relentless determination. She managed to pull together an effective coalition of doctors and scientists who were prepared to stand up and say publically that chrysotile kills. She worked closely with asbestos victims in Canada and other countries to expose the devastating effects of Canada’s love affair with asbestos. She persuaded key politicians to break with the consensus and take a stand against the asbestos industry. And she took on the lies and distortions of the asbestos lobby, their go-to scientists and the politicians who pushed their interests in Government.