The Guardian recently reported that Companies House was planning to delete millions of records it holds on dissolved companies. The proposals are to delete records older than 6 years old. There seems to be no pressing need for this, other than administrative convenience, but the consequences for asbestos victims seeking to pursue claims for compensation could be devastating.
Asbestos diseases develop many years after the asbestos exposure that caused them. For example, the average latency period before mesothelioma develops is about 35 years. In the intervening period, the employer who caused the asbestos exposure may have gone out of business. Furthermore, the person who develops the disease may not remember the name of their employer, or know whether the original employer changed its name or was a subsidiary of another company.
All this information is vital for a solicitor pursuing a claim for compensation. They have to identify not only the correct employer responsible for the asbestos exposure but also the insurance company on cover for the relevant period. The historical data held at Companies House is absolutely vital to this process. If these proposals go ahead it will show a scandalous disregard for the interests of people suffering with asbestos diseases. And it seems the pressure for these proposals may be coming from MPs who have been lobbied by people who were directors of dissolved companies who seem to want their involvement in these companies shielded from public scrutiny. There is no public interest in destroying these documents, in fact the opposite is the case. The only beneficiaries would seem to be people and businesses who can hide past misdeeds.
What is particularly scandalous is that this story comes close on the heels of the uproar about the HMRC taking over 12 months to issue proof of employment statements to solicitors acting on behalf of asbestos victims (only mesothelioma cases are prioritised. These delays risk claims being ‘timed out’ or victims dying before a claim is settled. The situation has got so bad that the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie MP, has written to HMRC and told them to get the problem resolved as a matter of urgency.
Asbestos victims already face huge obstacles in securing compensation given the passage of time between the exposure to asbestos they experienced at work and the diseases developing. These latest developments represent a further set of unnecessary obstacles put in their way if the proposals are allowed to go ahead. They would represent an appalling disregard for the rights of asbestos victims to secure legal redress and justice. Government ministers cannot be unaware of the implications, or the specific problems faced by asbestos victims and those suffering from other ‘long-tail’ diseases. Parliament has already had to step in to establish the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payments Scheme to compensate mesothelioma victims unable to trace the insurers of their, now defunct, former employer. And the reason most of them can’t trace this information? Because insurance companies decided to destroy, or simply failed to maintain, records of old insurance policies on ‘administrative’ grounds.
This negligence led to many asbestos victims dying uncompensated. The lesson from this awful story is that the unnecessary destruction of historical records will deny access to justice for people with terminal or chronic illnesses and allow those responsible to escape justice. The Government must step in to ensure these proposals do not go ahead.
The Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum has written to the Chair of Companies House and Secretary of State. We would urge people contact their MP to add their support to the campaign against these proposals.
Further information on this story:
One of Canada’s best known anti-asbestos campaigners has been awarded the prestigious Medal of Honour by Quebec’s National Assembly in recognition of her tireless work campaigning against Canada’s deadly asbestos trade, and her pivotal role in bringing this trade to a halt.
Kathleen Ruff is well known to Forum members but her achievements deserve wider recognition. This award would have been unthinkable until fairly recently. Quebec was the heart of Canada’s asbestos industry, and Canada was one of the world’s leading asbestos producing and exporting countries. To defeat the asbestos industry in Canada the fight would have to be taken to the heart of the beast and Kathleen did this with relentless determination. She managed to pull together an effective coalition of doctors and scientists who were prepared to stand up and say publically that chrysotile kills. She worked closely with asbestos victims in Canada and other countries to expose the devastating effects of Canada’s love affair with asbestos. She persuaded key politicians to break with the consensus and take a stand against the asbestos industry. And she took on the lies and distortions of the asbestos lobby, their go-to scientists and the politicians who pushed their interests in Government.
As recently as 2012, the Quebec government had awarded the asbestos industry $58 million to help open the giant Jeffrey underground asbestos mine. But later that year, thanks in large part to Kathleen’s tireless campaigning alongside others, the loan was withdrawn and the mine closed, effectively putting an end to Canada’s century old asbestos trade. This was a triumph for campaigners in Canada as they defeated an industry with powerful friends and deep pockets.
The results, in terms of lives that will be saved in Canada, and the countries which received its asbestos exports, are incalculable. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Kathleen for her tireless and selfless campaigning. She is a shining example of what can be achieved with truth and determination. We in the Forum would like to extend our heartfelt congratulation to Kathleen on this richly deserved award.
Kathleen Ruff at Action Mesothelioma Day in Manchester, July 2012.
More info on the award and Kathleen’s work can be found here
Dove release and speeches: 12.30 p.m. in Lincoln Square, Central Manchester
Public Meeting: ‘Time for a National Mesothelioma Strategy’
1.30 p.m., Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Central Manchester
Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group will again be commemorating all those who have lost their lives to mesothelioma alongside patients, family members, carers, campaigners, Trade Unionists and MPs. Local MPs will speak at the outdoor rally in Lincoln Square following which we will release doves in memory of past victims.
The outdoor rally will be followed by a public meeting at the nearby Friends Meeting House on Mount Street. Following the surprise announcement in March that the Government was to award £5 million for the establishment of a National Mesothelioma Centre, there is increased optimism that the need for more sustainable research funding is being recognized at last by those who can make this happen. But we need to make sure the pressure is kept up so that ongoing funding is secured for the future.
We will again be raising money for mesothelioma research in the run-up to Action Mesothelioma Day. Last year over £20,000 was raised by GMAVSG supporters. Every penny of this will go directly to mesothelioma research. If you would like to help us raise money this year please contact us to find out how. You can also download a Sponsorship form here (Merv, could you put a link here to the PDF of our Sponsorship form. I will get Rob or Jeff to email you this tomorrow morning).
Please note, there will also be commemoration events for the Battle of the Somme in the centre of Manchester on 1st July. There will probably be parking restrictions and it may take longer than usual to travel into Manchester so please make allowances for this. Please check our Facebook page for updates on travel and parking on the day.
Asbestos Victims Groups welcome £5 million pledged for a National Mesothelioma Centre but argue for full consultation and open tenders before funds allocated.
Funding for mesothelioma research has always been pitifully low and for years now the Forum has campaigned hard for better funding. Our groups have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for research through sponsorship of our Action Mesothelioma Day events and other fundraising activities.
So we are delighted that £5 million has been pledged by the Chancellor with the express aim of establishing a National Mesothelioma Centre to give a lead on developing research to find better treatment and a cure for this dreadful disease. This is a significant sum, at least compared to funding previously given for mesothelioma research.
Although this is a one-off grant it can be a springboard for the future if used wisely. We desperately need a national strategy for research which enhances collaboration amongst the leading researchers and builds on the cutting edge work already going on in the UK. We also need ongoing, sustainable funding earmarked specifically for mesothelioma research so that we can continue to develop new ideas and treatments, and also attract more researchers to the field, who may currently see this area of work as too risky given past funding difficulties.
At the moment it is unclear where and how this money will be allocated and that is a major concern. None of the leading mesothelioma researchers, research institutions or charities were consulted before the Budget announcement and were as surprised as anyone to hear the news.
During discussions at the annual All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Asbestos Seminar in the House of Commons on 22 March it was suggested that a decision had already been made by the relevant Minister to award this money to a consortium of institutions led by Imperial College, all based in London. If true, this is a shocking disregard for the existing experience and talent of mesothelioma researchers in the UK. Imperial College may have many fine qualities but they have published little, if any mesothelioma research.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel, we have some of the best research in the world already going on under our noses. A National Mesothelioma Centre does not have to be a ‘bricks and mortar’ centre. Why not a ‘virtual centre’, co-ordinating the research already happening in places like Leicester, Cambridge, Sheffield and Southampton?
The Forum has written to George Freeman MP, the responsible Minister, to urge full consultation and an open tender process before any decisions are made about the allocation of the £5 million, or the National Mesothelioma Centre. We need decisions that are made in the best interests of mesothelioma patients, and that requires open consultation with all the best people, not secret backroom deals.
We have an opportunity to drive the fight against mesothelioma forward and give victims some hope for the first time. That requires collaboration and openness not private negotiations. We should seize this opportunity with both hands, get all those currently leading on mesothelioma research around the table with politicians and civil servants and decide collectively the best way to spend the £5 million Budget award, what type of National Mesothelioma Centre we need and how we sustain progress in research for the future.
Asbestos victims will miss Lord Avebury, one of their staunchest champions, who died on the 13 February 2016.
Lord Avebury championed many causes during his long political career, including the campaign to protect workers from the dangers of asbestos, and to provide justice for asbestos victims and their families, which continues to this day.
In 1976, Lord Avebury was one of the first, and most influential supporters of the late Nancy Tait MBE, assisting her in the publication of her book, Asbestos Kills, and becoming a trustee of Nancy Tait’s organisation, the Society for the Prevention of Asbestosis and industrial Diseases (SPAID).
More recently, Lord Avebury was one of the main proponents of exceptional treatment for asbestos victims in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and for improvements to the Mesothelioma Act 2014, which set up a scheme to pay compensation to mesothelioma sufferers who cannot trace employers’ liability insurance. During the passage of both Acts Lord Avebury kept in close touch with the Forum and spoke eloquently and passionately in support of the Forum’s demands.
Lord Avebury was a champion of Human Rights and a true friend of asbestos victims. He will be greatly missed in the ongoing campaign for justice for all asbestos victims.
Living Well with Mesothelioma Patient and Carer Support Group Cross Street Chapel. Cross Street. Manchester. M2 1NL. 1.30 to 3.30 pm
Meetings take place the first Monday of every month and give an opportunity for people with mesothelioma and their carers to meet, share experiences and socialise. We also have a speaker at each meeting – the list of speakers and subjects is below. Please check our Facebook page for updates and amendments.
1st February 2016 – What is Palliative Care. Dr S Kay. Consultant in Palliative Medicine University Hospital South Manchester and St Anns Hospice..
7th March 2016 – Let us Support You. The Key Workers. Neil Cliffe Cancer Care Centre
4th April 2016 – Eat Your Greens. Victoria Driver. Oncology Specialist Dietician. East Lancashire Hospitals Trust.
2nd May 2016 – NO MEETING. International Mesothelioma Interest Group.
7th June 2016 – Tai Chi. Marie Leddy. Ocupational Therapist. East Cheshire Hospice
4th July 2016 – Asbestos Awareness. Greg Byrne. R B Asbestos Consultants
1st August 2016 – The Role of the Research Nurse in Mesothelioma. Maria Blinston / Rachel Chant. University Hospital South Manchester.
5th September 2016 – Let’s be Practical .Marie Leddy . Occupational Therapist. East Cheshire Hospice.
3rd October 2016 – Knowledge is the Key. Patient and Carer Information. Lorraine Creech. Mesothelioma UK and University Hospital South Manchester
Asbestos victims’ groups have today welcomed proposals for a new law to remove asbestos from workplaces, public buildings and homes in Britain. The proposals, contained in a new report, “The asbestos crisis – Why Britain needs an eradication law”, are published today by the All-Party Group on Occupational Safety and Health.
This country has an appalling legacy of asbestos-related diseases because of the widespread use of asbestos in construction and heavy industry in the post-war years. Britain has the highest mortality rates for mesothelioma, a fatal asbestos-related cancer, in the world. More than 2,500 people died in Britain in each of the last 2 years , with a similar number estimated to have died from asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis. Asbestos is responsible for 3 times as many deaths as road traffic accidents each year.
Although the import and use of asbestos in Britain was finally, and belatedly, banned in 1999, most of it is still embedded in the fabric of many of our homes, workplaces and public buildings, including schools and hospitals.
Graham Dring, Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups’ Forum UK said today “Such a law is essential if we are to put an end to the ongoing tragedy of needless asbestos-related deaths, and the heartbreak this causes for those left behind. Support Groups around the country are dealing with the legacy of disease caused by exposure to asbestos decades ago. But we are also seeing increasing numbers of people who did not work directly with asbestos but have contracted diseases because asbestos was in the building where they worked.
Unfortunately, you cannot guarantee asbestos will remain undisturbed and that buildings will remain in good repair. The only sure way to prevent exposure in the future is to get it removed. We don’t expect this to happen overnight. But Government needs to start now to plan and set targets for phased, safe removal. Asbestos victims were badly let down in the past by the failure to ban asbestos until decades after the dangers were first known. We owe it to future generations to stop the epidemic of asbestos diseases by removing the root cause from our workplaces, public buildings and homes.”
For more information on this press release contact Graham Dring on 0161 636 7555 or 07887 871501.
Notes for editors
- 1. The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK was set up in 2005 to represent asbestos victims and support groups in the UK and to campaign on issues affecting asbestos victims. Individual groups give free, independent advice and support to asbestos victims and their families and run support group meetings for mesothelioma sufferers and bereaved family members. More information can be found at www.asbestos-victims-support.org
- 2. Asbestos-related diseases are ‘long-tail’ illnesses. It is usually decades after asbestos-exposure before diseases develop. The average for mesothelioma is around 35 years.
Together with Mesothelioma UK, we have set up a new support group for people with mesothelioma and those who care for them.
The group meets on the first Monday of every month, from 1.30pm to 3.30pm, at Cross Street Chapel (Manchester city centre, M2 1NL). For a map and directions, please click here.
The sessions will be an opportunity to meet others who understand what you are going through, and to learn more about mesothelioma and the help that is out there.
Some sessions will offer the chance to try complementary therapies, and to learn techniques to help you cope with the effects of mesothelioma.
Sessions are free of charge, and refreshments are provided.
The dates of the next six sessions will be:
- 5th October 2015
- 2nd November 2015
- 7th December 2015
- 4th January 2016
- 1st February 2016
- 7th March 2016
For more information, please contact us
Asbestos victims support groups, trade unions and UK campaigning bodies are urging local authorities, government agencies and market surveillance bodies to prioritize the threat posed by the possible asbestos contamination of UK imports.
An exposé in the United States earlier this month documented the presence of various types of asbestos fibres in crayons and toy fingerprinting kits imported from China.
Previously, Korean researchers identified asbestos contamination in baby powder from China and authorities in Italy, Spain and Ireland seized toxic thermos flasks also sourced from China. It is relevant to note that not only is China the world’s second biggest asbestos user, consuming over one million tonnes in 2013 and 2014, but China is also now the UK’s second largest import partner accounting for 7% of all UK imports in 2014.
How many of these imports contain asbestos?
Research undertaken last week revealed that products marketed by the toxic brands can be purchased online in the UK. Expressing the concerns of UK victims, John Flanagan from the Forum of Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups said:
“Thousands of people die every year because of past asbestos exposure at work and at home. Despite the UK asbestos ban, hazardous exposures to asbestos continue through lax enforcement of legislation and employer negligence.
If these crayons are being imported to the USA and Australia, it is possible they are also finding their way into the UK. The Government needs to assure people that these products are not being sold here and confirm the measures being taken to monitor imports from China and other countries to ensure that no products containing asbestos reach this country.”