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Ex-Sunderland shipyard worker’s mesothelioma fight

John Birkett from Washington has developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos as an apprentice shipwright at Walker and Hebburn.

John Birkett from Washington has developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos as an apprentice shipwright at Walker and Hebburn.

A FORMER shipyard worker diagnosed with mesothelioma today welcomed moves to make is easier for victims of asbestos-related cancer to claim compensation.

John Birkett, who was told he had developed the illness after complaining of “extreme tiredness” and undergoing a series of hospital tests, said the measures to set up a new support scheme were a “positive step”.

Many sufferers are unable to claim compensation from employers because the disease takes many years to develop and the companies they worked for may no longer exist.

The 66-year-old, from Biddick, Washington, was exposed to the deadly dust during his years as a trainee shipwright, which he started when he was 15.

“It is definitely a positive step,” he said. “Claiming compensation can be such a long drawn out legal process.

“I welcome any move that makes it easier and quicker.”

Introducing the Mesothelioma Bill, the Queen’s Speech said: “Legislation will be introduced to ensure sufferers of a certain asbestos-related cancer receive payments where no liable employer or insurer can be traced.”

Officials estimate that 3,500 victims who are not currently able to claim compensation will receive £355 million over the next 10 years.

The money will come from a levy on insurers which provide employers’ liability.

Anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma after July 25 last year can make a claim.

Mesothelioma - a cancer of the lining of internal organs - kills more than 1,800 people in the UK every year.

It is estimated that 300 people a year receive no civil compensation because their employer’s insurer cannot be traced.

Asbestos is the most common cause of the disease.

Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma will have been exposed to the mineral at some point in their life.

“Many people who find out they have the condition only have maybe a year to live, so it’s important that they get the support a quickly as possible,” said John.

In January, just over a year after doctors gave him the devastating news, John was awarded what he describes as “significant compensation” by insurers.

Following his diagnosis in 2011, the grandad contacted asbestos compensations specialists Thompsons Solicitors.

The firm secured an out-of-court settlement against all three shipyards’ insurers.

“Thankfully, in my case it was pretty straightforward,” he added. “The companies I worked for and their assets could be tracked down.

“But not all cases are like that.

“There may be people who have worked for smaller firms, which are more difficult to trace, so it much harder to make headway.”

 

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