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Former Ministry of Labour worker receives settlement from DWP following asbestos diagnosis

​A woman who worked in a government office with asbestos lined doors has secured compensation of over £150,000 after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

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13 February 2020

The 74-year-old, of Blackpool, who we have called Agnes, not her real name, worked as a telephonist at the Ministry of Labour in Newcastle-under-Lyme from the age of 24, between 1969-72.

During this period the government’s own guidance on asbestos was that “no possible source of dust should be ignored”.

Despite this Agnes remembers her office being affected by dust from heavy doors lined with sheets of asbestos on both sides for fire-proofing. Her desk was near to the door which would bang into the wall and bang shut, causing dust to be disturbed from the asbestos sheets. There were 20 such doors in the government building in Barracks Road, near to the bus station.

Agnes said: “The material was grey and the doors were solid. The sheets of asbestos got very tatty and greyer and greyer as time went on. The asbestos sheets were not sealed . . . there were bits that were falling off.

“Each time the door closed the sheet would have vibrated. Dust was released by the sheets vibrating, there was no ventilation to allow the dust to be removed.”

In July 2017 Agnes began to experience stabbing pains in her chest.  She was found to have fluid on her lung which was drained.  Analysis of the fluid confirmed the diagnosis of mesothelioma, a terminal condition that is only caused by asbestos exposure.

Since the diagnosis, her life has become a cycle of hospital visits for lung drains, between which she becomes increasingly breathless and eventually bedbound. She has had to give up much of the community volunteering work that she previously enjoyed. She is heavily dependent on her children and friends for care at home. 

Any trips out have been followed by a significant period of fatigue. Agnes is no longer able to cook, she employs a cleaner and struggles with the stairs at home. She feels the cold and has to have the heating on constantly.

Solicitors at Leigh Day acted on behalf of the mother-of-two in an action against the Department of Work and Pensions which was settled within eight months, a week before it was due to go to trial. The DWP did not admit liability.

Asbestos claim solicitor Steven Dickens of law firm Leigh Day said: 

“This is in my experience as quick as it has ever been possible to get a mesothelioma claim to trial from initial instruction.

“It was vitally important to conclude this matter in my client’s lifetime.  As she is a widow with no financial dependants the value of the claim, if brought by her estate following her death, would have been worth a significantly smaller amount.

“It seems that the government was content to drag this case out in the hope that my client would die so that its financial liability could be minimised. Our vigorous pursuit of the case against the DWP meant that my client was able to settle the matter in her lifetime for a significant sum.”

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