Former Liverpool dock workers with asbestos-related illnesses have been given the right to sue the government in a landmark ruling at the High Court late last year.
The test case was brought by former docker Robert Thompson and Winifred Rice from Ormskirk, whose husband Edward died in 2000. The ruling means dockers and their families can now sue for compensation.
Robert Thompson is suffering from diffuse pleural thickening – a disabling condition leaving him chronically short of breath – after working in Liverpool’s docks for 26 years.
Robert said, “I’ve seen colleagues die of mesothelioma and it’s a horrible death. Touch wood, I haven’t got that at the moment, but I have got the next one to it.”
Robert said he witnessed 17-stone friends waste away to nothing after contracting mesothelioma.
Robert and Edward worked in the National Dock Labour Group, which organised workers into pens and contracted them out to work on the ships.
After a hearing in May 2006, Lord Justice May ruled the Labour Board had a duty of care to dock workers, and that to do nothing was not an option. But the government continued to fight the case and brought an appeal to the High Court last month.
Judges at the High Court in London ordered the Department of Business and Enterprise – formerly the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) – to pay compensation for asbestos-related diseases.
Solicitor Neil Fisher said, “Our clients have had to wait many years for their compensation as the government fought the case every step of the way.
“This decision will help other dockers and their families to bring claims for compensation without having to identify individual shipping companies, many of whom no longer exist.”