Court decides that woman terminally ill from an asbestos cancer contracted disease from washing her husband’s work overalls
- Credit: Archant
A court has ruled that a woman who is terminally ill from an asbestos cancer contracted the disease from washing her husband’s work overalls.
Judgement in the Fenland woman's favour follows a lengthy court battle involving her husband's former employer, Barking and Dagenham Council.
John Allan and his life Jean lived in Dagenham before moving to Murrow near Wisbech when he retired 15 years ago.
But in January last year Jean was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer always associated with exposure to asbestos. She had always washed her husband's overalls which it transpired had been covered in asbestos dust.
The council who employed him had always told him there was no asbestos risk from his work as a college caretaker.
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Lawyer Martin Hayward, who fought their compensation claim, said: "At the time the council denied that he was working in hazardous conditions, even though they appeared to know otherwise.
"It was only when we recently trawled through the council's own archives that the misrepresentation was revealed."
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As a result, a court has now found that asbestos was indeed present, and that the council is therefore responsible for his Jean Allan's illness.
Mesothelioma takes decades before symptoms appear. There is no cure.
Mr Allan was employed at the old adult college in Dagenham for 25 years, from 1979 to 2004.
Part of his caretaker duties was to maintain the boilers, but during the mid 1990s he became concerned that the insulation on the pipework and boilers was of asbestos, and in poor repair.
Asbestos has long been recognized as an extremely hazardous material and is no longer used.
But Mr Allan's employers, the council, insisted that the cladding was not of asbestos and told him to continue with his duties under threat of disciplinary action.
Towards the end of the 1990s however, Mr and Mrs Allan recall 'men in space suits', as they describe them, arrived to strip out the old cladding. But they were given no explanation.
Mr Hayward of Ashtons Legal, a specialist in dealing with asbestos-related diseases, took up their case.
He said his researches into the case seemed to be stonewalled by the council. At first he applied under the Freedom of Information Act for records on the college, and was sent documents which seemed to show there had been no asbestos.
But he said his own local knowledge and that of the Allans established that the information they had been sent was on the wrong building.
"The council had disclosed records for the site of the new college, a short distance from the old college on Parsloes Avenue," said Mr Hayward.
A claim was submitted against the council on behalf of the Allans, but the council denied liability.
Meanwhile, when Mr Hayward pressed the council again they sent him the results of a survey, dated 2003, but which made no mention asbestos.
When he appealed he says the council told him they had no more documents "even though this was untrue. I undertook more research in the council's archives, which revealed original memoranda from 1998 referring to the presence of asbestos and an asbestos survey carried out by the council in 1996.
"That survey has never been disclosed."
Mr Hayward said that in May this year when these documents were presented to the Royal Courts of Justice court, they found in favour of Mrs Allan and against the council.
"Asbestos had been present and in poor condition, as claimed, presenting a serious hazard to Mr Allan and, through her washing his overalls, to his wife," said Mr Hayward.
"The behaviour of the council throughout has been disingenuous to say the least. Either they knew about the presence of asbestos in Mr Allan's workplace, or they didn't.
"The fact that they commissioned a survey in 1996, which referred to asbestos in the boiler room, suggests that they did."
He added: "They denied to Mr Allan that there had been asbestos present, when there was good reason to believe they may have known there was. This posed a grave risk to his life. Then when the asbestos was removed, they didn't tell him.
"After the legal claim was issued against them, they continued to deny the existence of any documents relating to asbestos on the site and claimed there were no more documents available.
"It was down to my colleagues and I to delve through their archives to discover that the council had known about the presence of asbestos, even though they continued to deny liability.
"Even now they continue to claim there are no more documents available. They even have no record of Mr Allan being in their employ, though he worked as a caretaker at the college for 25 years."
Mr Hayward said: "The Allans will never enjoy the long and happy retirement they had planned. Mrs Allan will never see her grandchildren grow into adults.
"And we still have no idea what the missing 1996 survey prepared by the borough engineers' department said about the presence of asbestos, because the council say it doesn't exist."
The courts have yet to decide on what damages are due to Mrs Allan.