Image: Fresh Wharf early 1960s.jpg, CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Creative Commons
Peter Williams had settlement approved in the courts recently on behalf of the children of a woman who died from mesothelioma last year. Jacqueline Harris, who would have been 60 this year, was exposed to asbestos dust carried home on her father's clothes every day when he finished work as a Docker during the 1960s and 70s.
John Meddings worked for the Port of London Authority unloading cargo from ships on the London Docks. He was nicknamed 'the Professor' because of his maths skills. Sadly, John died in 1987 aged 67.
In a witness statement before her death, Jacqueline remembers as a child her father getting the bus from Canning Town to Poplar to walk through into the Docks dressed in a blue boiler suit and donkey jacket.
When he returned from work, he used to put newspaper down on the floor of the living room and unroll the turn-ups on his trousers and she would see the white/grey dust falling out on to the newspaper.
John told Jacqueline and her sister that it was asbestos dust and that he had unloaded sacks of asbestos that burst open, covering him with the powder. John often came home with this dust all over his clothes, on his body and in his hair.
She said her father didn't mention asbestos often because it was simply a regular occurrence that he was covered in dust. She remembers he used to wash at the kitchen sink and her mother would shake out his clothes before washing them. Her father was never given protective clothes or masks by his employer.
Jacqueline said this would have happened throughout her childhood and teenage years and that she had forgotten all about it until a surgeon at Barts Hospital told her she was suffering from asbestos related mesothelioma when she made the connection. Jacqueline had lived with her parents until she married in 1980 at the age of 28. Her husband died of lung cancer in 2005.
From 2016, Jacqueline had worked as a childminder and also looked after her grandchildren while her daughters went to work. At the end of May 2019, Jacqueline said she found she was suddenly getting breathless chasing her grandchildren upstairs. After a holiday in Turkey in July 2019, she went to her GP who sent her for an X-ray which showed she was suffering from a pleural effusion on the base of her right lung.
Peter pursued a claim on behalf of Jacqueline's daughters against the former Port of London Authority, which admitted liability. A vital part of the claim was the cost of childcare to replace the care Jacqueline had given to her grandchildren.
Peter said, "This is yet another terrible story of a woman contracting mesothelioma not from her own work but following exposure from the clothes of a father who worked on the Docks.
"This is a similar story as several previous cases we've dealt with where men have unknowingly brought home fatal dust from work with tragic consequences for their families. It is simply heart-breaking."
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