The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is #choosetochallenge. To mark this day, we look at some of the women who chose to challenge the mesothelioma community and the impact for good that has had on present day mesothelioma sufferers and their families.
Nellie Kershaw was the first reported medical case of an asbestos related death in 1924, having died from asbestosis. Nellie, from Rochdale started working in the industry aged only 12, transferring to the Turner Brothers Asbestos as a spinner in 1917. She started experiencing health problems at the age of 29 but continued to work with asbestos until 1922, when she sadly passed away.
The inquest of her death changed the way asbestos was viewed forever. When Nellie’s death certificate was issued on 2nd April 1924, it cited ‘fibrosis of the lungs due to the inhalation of mineral particles’ as the cause of death, paving the way for what it known today as ‘Asbestosis’.
This led to the publication of the first Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931, a crucial development of statutory duty on those working within the industry. This would eventually lead to more far-reaching statutory duties in the form of the Factories Act 1961, Asbestos Regulations 1969 and Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1987. These are the regulations which lawyers tend to rely upon when pursuing claims on behalf of mesothelioma and asbestos related disease sufferers in the twenty first century.
Nora Dockerty’s family were the first in the UK to receive compensation for her death from an asbestos related disease in 1952. Nora worked at Turner Brothers Asbestos in Rochdale for 13 years. The law firm of Messrs John Whittle, Robinson & Bailey were instructed to act for the family. The case was finally settled in January 1952 when Turner & Newall, Turner Brother Asbestos’ parent company, paid the sum of £375 with costs.
The Dockerty family paved the way for many thousands of families to follow in their footsteps and pursue companies across the UK for their negligence and failure to protect their workers; men and women alike.
Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson
In 1965, Dr Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson published an article titled “Mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum following exposure to asbestos in the London area”.
The report highlighted that even low levels of exposure to respirable asbestos dust could lead to the development of mesothelioma with a focus on what is known today as ‘secondary exposure’ or ‘overalls cases’, where typically wives who washed their husband’s overalls or work clothes went on to develop mesothelioma.
The decision to challenge the status quo by Dr Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson created an important link enabling claims to be bought by those exposed to asbestos by washing their husband’s overalls after this date.
As a result, a large number of mesothelioma compensation claims on behalf of women and children exposed to asbestos via contaminated overalls have gone on to be successful. Such cases include women laundering overalls contaminated with asbestos from sites such as paper mills, steelworks, power stations or as tradesmen such as electricians or laggers to name but a few.
Without this research paper this would not have been possible.
June Hancock and Evelyn Margerson
June and Evelyn both pursued Turner & Newalls for environmental exposure to asbestos from the Armley Factory, Leeds.
June, sadly developed Mesothelioma which resulted in her sad death on 19th June 1997 while Evelyn’s husband, Arthur Margereson sadly passed away from Mesothelioma in 1991. Both families lived in close proximity to the factory but never actually worked in the factory.
This decision is important, as it set a precedent that the duty of care owed by an employer extended beyond employees to those who lived nearby and suffered deadly environmental exposure.
This has led to many legal cases being successfully pursued by local residents against the owners of large asbestos factories across the UK. A particular focus has been on the large number of residents from Barking who sadly developed mesothelioma having grown up or gone to school in the shadow of the Cape Asbestos site in the area.
In the 1950s Mavis met Ray Nye who at the time was undertaking an Apprenticeship at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. Unbeknown to Mavis and Ray, Ray was being exposed to fine asbestos fibres that clung to his clothes as he hugged Mavis.
Mavis was diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2009 and has since worked tirelessly to raise awareness of Mesothelioma, working with likeminded victims, leading to the establishment of the ‘Mesowarriors’ who have gained an international reputation for their support and advice.
Mavis chose to, and continues to challenge the norm and this is particularly true for her work with clinical trials; Mavis is acknowledged as an integral part of the CONFIRM trial.
The first results from the trial were announced on 30 January 2021. These showed that the period of survival for patients treated with Nivolumab increased by 50% compared with the patients who received the placebo, and that they had a longer period over which their symptoms from mesothelioma remained stable. 
Trials such as these are paving the way for others to undergo and have access to potentially life saving treatment. As a result, treatment has become an integral part of legal claims brought by Hugh James with claims pursed for an indemnity for the cost of future treatment that may not be available on the NHS.
Liz is the clinical lead for the growing number of Mesothelioma Nurse Specialists supported by the charity and is also the external spokesperson for Mesothelioma UK.
Mesothelioma UK is a national specialist resource centre, specifically for the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. The charity is dedicated to providing specialist mesothelioma information, support and education, and to improving care and treatment for all UK mesothelioma patients and their carers.
Mesothelioma UK now fund or part fund 30 nurses across the UK who are each focused on ensuring Mesothelioma expertise is available at the front door of the NHS.
Liz was awarded an MBE in 2019 for services to Cancer Research and Patients in honour of her work.
The challenge to assist those suffering from Mesothelioma continues and in 2020 Hugh James were appointed to the legal panel of Mesothelioma UK, a legal panel established to ensure those suffering from Mesothelioma have access to specialist legal advice.
The Role of Women in Mesothelioma
To mark International Women's Day 2021, Richard Green, Partner and Head of the Specialist Asbestos Team here at Hugh James, spoke to two of the nurses from Mesothelioma UK; Sarah Morgan, Mesothelioma Clinical Nurse Specialist for Wales and Christine Jones, Mesothelioma Clinical Nurse Specialist for Plymouth and the Devon and Cornwall peninsular.
Here in part one of the video, they talked about the role that women have played in mesothelioma through history and in the present day.
Invaluable support is also offered to those suffering from mesothelioma and their families by way of support groups across the UK, many of which were born from the desire to challenge the way those suffering, and their families are supported.
HASAG Asbestos Disease Support, the South West Asbestos Support Awareness Group (SWASAG), Asbestos Awareness Support Cymru (AASC) and the Glynnis Gale Foundation were all founded by daughters’ who have lost a parent to mesothelioma. They each had the courage to change the way that victims of mesothelioma are supported in their respective geographical areas with the establishment of support groups.
This is of course only a snapshot of the challenges faced and overcome by men and women alike in raising awareness and fighting tirelessly for, and on behalf of, those suffering from Mesothelioma and other asbestos related conditions.
Here in the second part of the video to mark International Women's Day with two of the Mesothelioma UK Clinical Nurse Specialists; Sarah & Christine, they spoke more about the mesothelioma support groups, and the women who have impacted the mesothelioma community for the better.
If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer or any other asbestos related condition, they can contact a member of the asbestos team at Hugh James on 0808 231 0963 to discuss a potential claim on a no obligation basis. All cases are pursued on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis.