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THE SCARRED GENERATION; Key court decision must be overturned for victims ASBESTOS TIMEBOMB DAILY Mirror CAMPAIGN They worked in places like this, lagging pipes. Now the first signs of asbestos lung damage are showing, yet compensation is scrapped ..


IF you have never heard of pleural plaques you can count yourself lucky.

Its victims are no longer allowed to sue for compensation after a Court of Appeal ruling - but the Mirror is today calling for that verdict to be overturned.

Pleural plaques are scars on the lungs caused by asbestos and are often the first sign of the terrible damage within.

Sufferers are 1,000 times more likely than the rest of us to die from mesothelioma.

Although not considered dangerous themselves, pleural plaques can grow, causing breathing problems and mental stress.

For 20 years, workers with pleural plaques who were exposed by their bosses to asbestos could sue for compensation.

The insurance industry complained this was "financially ruinous", went to the Court of Appeal three years ago and won.

Scrapping payouts saved the insurance industry more than pounds 1billion. The court worried that ambulance-chasing lawyers would encourage workers to have their lungs scanned "for the sole purpose of bringing claims for compensation".

This would "tend to create stress and anxiety where none exists", ruled Appeal Court Lord Justices Phillips and Longmore.

Their Lordships should try telling that to the laggers of Barking, East London.

They don't need to see doctors or lawyers in order to feel worried - they've seen many relatives die from the clouds of asbestos dust they used to work in.

Lagger Jimmy Parrish, 61, said: "Asbestos killed my father when he was 66. One uncle died of mesothelioma at 42. Two other uncles died of asbestosis in their 60s. Nobody knows how many died before them.

They used to call it bronchitis or pneumonia."

Jimmy is the president of the Barking branch of the GMB union and has been keeping records of members diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases for the past 10 years.

There are several different types. Most serious is the dreaded mesothelioma, an aggressive and invariably deadly cancer that kills within several terrifying months.

Pleural plaques are considered to be the least serious.

Out of 350 of Jimmy's branch members, 60 have developed asbestos-related diseases over the past decade. Some 27 are now dead.

The insurance industry persuaded the Court of Appeal that pleural plaques are "inert", even though patients who were heavily exposed to asbestos have a one-in-10 chance of developing mesothelioma.

That means they are more than one thousand times more likely than the rest of us to develop this terrible disease.

They are grim odds - but Jimmy's figures suggest it's even worse.

Of 25 Barking laggers diagnosed first with pleural plaques, four later died of lung cancer, three have died of mesothelioma and one - Brian Fairbrass - was so terrified that he commited suicide.

"Brian just couldn't face it," said Jimmy.

Since the 1980s, many laggers have been classed as self-employed. Linda Waldman, of the University of Sussex, who has studied the Barking laggers, said: "They have no sick benefits, no injury compensation, no means of surviving if they are not earning."

Lagging is hard physical work and men with pleural plaques often struggle.

"There are no passengers in our game," said Jimmy. "If you can't get up a scaffold, then you are up the road."

Once diagnosed with pleural plaques, they used to be offered around pounds 7,000 as an "interim" payment.

If they went on to develop mesothelioma, they could claim for another pounds 100,000 - but often died before it was paid. Instead, most accepted pounds 20,000 as a "full and final" payment. "This appears to be strangely illogical," said Linda Waldman.

"Once diagnosed - even if with pleural plaque - they have no way of knowing how much longer they are going to survive.

"So the men, who think that they are going to die anyway, aim to get the legal process over with."

Medically speaking, pleural plaques might not be a death sentence, but cancer specialist Dr Robin Rudd said sufferers faced an agonising future.

"For those who have been heavily exposed to asbestos, the risks are large," he said. "To be told that your present condition is benign but there is a 10 per cent risk that you will die prematurely of mesothelioma is not very reassuring.

"Every ache or pain or feeling of shortness of breath renews the fear that this may be the onset of mesothelioma. The anxiety is real for all and for some it has a serious adverse effect on quality of life."

The pleural plaques case went to the House of Lords in 2007, and the verdict was upheld.

Last October, Justice Secretary Jack Straw promised to respond within a month.

The Scottish Government has already announced plans to overturn the Lords decision. Jack Straw must do the same. The courts might be right on the law, but they are wrong on justice.

TOMORROW .. we reveal the full threat of the hidden killer in a building near you.

I applaud the stand you're taking. I have pleural plaques and am at risk of developing a worse disease


As a lifelong Mirror reader, I'm so pleased to see my paper taking up the fight for all of us exposed to this terrible danger."


Mirror's 5 demands

1 A pounds 10million National Centre for Asbestos Related Disease to find better treatment, alleviate suffering and work on cures.

2 Compensation reinstated for victims of "pleural plaques" - scars on lungs caused by asbestos - after it was scrapped two years ago.

3 Fair and equal compensation for asbestos disease sufferers who can't trace the insurers of the bosses who exposed them, through a new Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau paid for by the insurance industry.

4 A public register of all asbestos surveys carried out on public buildings.

5 The Health and Safety Executive must be given the resources to meet its own targets for inspecting asbestos removal work.

1913 One of Britain's biggest asbestos firms opened a factory in Barking

1929 "Many in Barking suffering lung disease due to the inhalation of asbestos dust," says medic.

1931 Rules on "safe" levels of asbestos dust for workers introduced but didn't apply to laggers.

1965 Spate of mesothelioma cases around Barking factory. It closes three years later.


ILL The lungs of pleural plaques sufferer
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 3, 2009
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