The Pioneering Women of Asbestos

In order to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, we have chosen this newsletter to highlight the unsung heroes in the on-going battle against asbestos.

As expected, much of what is written about asbestos and its deadly effects have focused on statistics in the male population.

There are more than 6 times as many male fatalities as there are female, and yet some of the landmark asbestos cases involve female victims.

Nellie Kershaw:

Nellie Kershaw has the unwelcome distinction that in 1924 she become the first named victim to asbestos in this country.

Nellie Kershaw was a factory worker in the asbestos textile mills in Rochdale, when she became too sick to work. On the 22nd July she was issued with a Certificate of ill health describing her condition as asbestos poisoning.

This case was rare as the sufferer was diagnosed  with an asbestos related condition during life. Subsequently when she died on the 24th March 1925 she was the first death to be officially recognised as ‘pulmonary asbestosis.’

Nora Dockerty:

Nora Dockerty, who died in 1950 at 31 years old, is the first successful British asbestos claimant.

Mr Kelly, Nora’s Father, began the process of gathering the evidence needed to bring the lawsuit forward and instructed the solicitors, John Whittle, Robinson & Bailey.

After much procrastination the case finally settled with the Turner & Newall Ltd paying £375 and costs.

Nancy Tait:

Unlike the previous two women featured in this newsletter Nancy Tait was not herself a fatality due to asbestos.

She was still a victim of asbestos when her husband died of pleural mesothelioma in 1968.

Nancy set up ‘The Society for the Prevention of Asbestosis and Industrial Diseases’ (SPAID). This was the first group worldwide to lobby for the needs of asbestos victims.

SPAID was a registered charity which offered free advice and support to victims and their family members. Nancy sadly passed away at the age of 89. Having devoted 41 years of her life dedicated to the fight for compensation for victims of asbestos and mesothelioma.

Alice Jefferson:

After working in the Cape Asbestos Factory for 3 months when she was 17, Alice contracted mesothelioma and in 1982 was the focus of a prime time landmark documentary.

Although Alice died only a month after filming, the programme created a huge turning point for asbestos in the UK.

After the footage was screened on television, the government reduced the legal limit for asbestos exposure in the workplace. The screening of the programme had a huge detrimental effect on the asbestos companies, with Turner & Newall losing up to £60 million of its share value.

June Hancock:

Whereas the other victims of asbestos had at some point worked with the deadly fibres, June Hancock had not.

She lived in Armley, West Yorkshire which was situated next to J. W. Roberts an asbestos company and subsidiary of Turner & Newall.

June was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1993 and was the first case to be brought for environmental asbestos exposure.

Her claim succeeded and she received £65,000 in compensation. This case acted as a trailblazer and helped many other mesothelioma suffers reach out of court settlements for environmental exposure.

Gina Lees:

Gina was diagnosed with mesothelioma having never worked, lived near, nor had any of her relatives work with asbestos.

Gina’s husband, Michael, was determined to find out how his wife could have come into contact with the asbestos fibres.

Gina was a school teacher, and upon extensive research Michael found that all 25 of the schools in which she worked contained asbestos, often damaged or in a dangerous condition.

Gina’s case brought together an extensive network of asbestos victims, scientific experts and public health campaigners to tackle the huge problem of asbestos in schools.

Debbie Brewer:

Debbie was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2006. Her asbestos exposure came from her father when he returned home after working as a lagger removing asbestos insulation from pipework at the Ministry of Defence.

Debbie’s case was the first to hold the MOD to account for negligence.

She has gone on to lead the way in a modern day asbestos support group, particularly using the media and social networks to provide support for victims and their families.

Source: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.