Justice at last for family whose mother died of asbestos-related disease
Members of the Clydebank Asbestos Group, led by Bob Dickie, a former UCS shop steward, who were in the vanguard of the campaign for compensation for people suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. They include Lord McFall, who was MP at the time, Des McNulty, who was MSP, Alex Cunningham, Jimmy Cloughley and Tommy Gorman. Picture by Bill Heaney
BBC Scotland reports: A family have been awarded almost £250,000 in a groundbreaking legal case after their mother died from second-hand exposure to asbestos.
Adrienne Sweeney contracted mesothelioma after coming into contact with dust from her husband’s overalls. William Sweeney worked at the Babcock & Wilcox boiler-making factory in Renfrew in the 1960s.
It is believed to be the first time in Scotland that a legal case of this kind has been successfully pursued. Mrs Sweeney died in 2015, seven years after her husband passed away.
Lawyers for the family said they were left in the difficult position of proving their case with their father not there to provide evidence of the working conditions at Babcock’s.
However, a former colleague came forward on Mr Sweeney’s behalf and now the family have been awarded damages of £247,000.
The Sweeneys’ daughter Kay Gibson said the compensation gave her late mother “the justice she wanted in life and that we sought on her behalf after her painful and unnecessary premature death”.
Adrienne Sweeney, pictured left, contracted the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma
She added: “Our loving mother, like so many other women in Scotland in the late 1960s and early 1970s, supported her family by caring for her children and washing her husband’s overalls when he returned from a hard day’s work for employers who used deadly asbestos.
“These women were unaware how unsafe it was to be handling the asbestos dust that came from these work clothes or of the contamination risk to their own and their families’ lungs. We, her children, await to see if we will suffer the same fate.
“Babcock International have not won their case but it is wrong that ordinary bereaved families still have to individually battle the might of global corporations for justice for their late relatives in such situations.”
The family’s lawyer Nicola Macara, from Thompsons Solicitors, said: “It is very regrettable that Babcock International Limited made the family go through the full court process hoping that, with all those central to the case being dead, they would successfully defend the action.
“Fortunately we were able to lead credible and reliable evidence as a result of having taken both Mrs Sweeney’s and the late witness’s statements.
“This landmark case is a very positive outcome not only for the Sweeney family but for all Scots fighting to ensure that justice is done for sufferers of asbestos-related disease.”
BACKGROUND TO MESOTHELIOMA IN THE UK
The battle for justice for the victims of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma has been long and hard.
The Clydebank Asbestos Group, formed by people who had worked in the Clyde shipyards and factories, was in the vanguard of that battle, backed by Thompson Solicitors.
Figures from the Health & Safety Executive show that the areas with highest mesothelioma mortality in males are West Dunbartonshire, Barrow-in-Furness, Plymouth, Portsmouth and South Tyneside. These are associated with past exposure to asbestos in shipbuilding.
It is estimated that over 1,700 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually in the UK. However, new cases of mesothelioma are increasing rapidly, with this figure set to rise each year and peak up to 2,500 patients in 2015 due to the delay between exposure to asbestos and onset of the disease. The number of people of people who develop the disease will then start to reduce each year.