When Mary Griffiths was told by her doctors that she had the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, at the age of 75, she knew exactly how she had been exposed to the deadly dust in her younger life.
Surviving just a few short weeks after her diagnosis, Mary was determined to bring the asbestos giant Cape Asbestos to justice. Although she had taken advice from the asbestos support group HASAG on her benefits entitlement before she lost her life, there was little opportunity for her to pursue her claim in her lifetime.
Children take up Mary's case
Her case was taken up following her death by her daughter, Lucy, and her son, Justin, who were equally determined.
Lucy explains: “In the early part of the 1970s, Mum and Dad moved from London to begin a care home for the elderly on the south coast. As part of safety measures to reduce fire risk during a time of building alterations to change the building from residential to commercial use, they were advised by the local authority and the fire service that they needed to install fire retardant boards made from asbestos inside the building.
"Mum and Dad did this work themselves spending many hours cutting and fixing the dusty boards inside the home. Mum was exposed to the dust when carrying out the work alongside my Dad.”
Diary charts conversations
Lucy had, by chance, retained her father’s diaries which clearly showed the detail of conversations which he had had with the local authority’s building inspection team which had advised two types of asbestos boards as being suitable. One was manufactured by Cape Asbestos and the other by another provider, now essentially bankrupt.
Lucy’s solicitor, Ian Bailey from Irwin Mitchell London takes up the story: “Claims in relation to asbestos diseases have evolved in England and Wales so that the claim is usually brought against the employer or an occupier of premises. Here, we were arguing that Cape, as the manufacturer of the product, should be liable which is much more unusual and more complex.
"In this case we had the additional complication of not being able to prove which of the two companies had manufactured the boards which Mr and Mrs Griffiths had bought many decades earlier."
Despite having captured a very large percentage of the insulation board market at that time, lawyers for Cape denied all responsibility and argued that Lucy could not establish that its product had been used and the claim should therefore fail.
A true fighter, determined to ensure justice for her mother, Lucy organised the careful removal of one of the sheets from the building to check.
On the reverse of the boards, were the stamped words “Asbestolux,” a product only manufactured by Cape. The case could be proved.
For Lucy and her family, the claim was never about money. It was about proving that Cape were liable and they knew that the supply of dusty boards, without any warning, created a deadly hazard to consumers.
Supreme Court hearing
Documents recently made available following a fight by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum – UK in the Supreme Court clearly demonstrated that Cape lobbied to lower safety limits on dust levels from their boards and fought off attempts to include safety warnings for fears of affecting profitability.
Lucy adds: “There’s no way my parents would have bought the Asbestolux with a strong safety warning on it. Cape managed for decades to avoid the truth coming out about their plans to hide safety concerns and put profit before lives.
"Sadly, for my mother, this has all come too late. I am now hopeful that others can benefit from the recent Supreme Court decision.”
Find out more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise in supporting people and families affected by mesothelioma and other diseases at our dedicated asbestos-related disease section.
“There’s no way my parents would have bought the Asbestolux with a strong safety warning on it. Cape managed for decades to avoid the truth coming out about their plans to hide safety concerns and put profit before lives. Sadly, for my mother, this has all come too late. I am now hopeful that others can benefit from the recent Supreme Court decision.”