Asbestos related disease

The family of a talented seamstress who died from an asbestos related disease is appealing for information about her former employer’s insurers.
Irene Stephenson from Wortley, Leeds died from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung, after she was exposed to asbestos in the workplace.

Irene, aged 84 when she died, worked for 26 years for Benjamin Simon and Sons, based in Park Lane, Leeds as a finisher.

Her family have been awarded substantial payment in compensation by the High Court of Justice for their mother’s death but may never see the money.

Their lawyers, Thompsons Solicitors have been unable to trace the insurance company on cover for Benjamin Simon for the period Irene worked there despite undertaking several searches using the Association of British Insurers Employers Liability Tracing Scheme.

The scheme is a voluntary code of practice and was set up to make it easier to find liable insurers from the past where the employer has ceased trading.

From 1972 it became law for businesses to hold Employers Liability Insurance but neither the employers nor the insurers were required to keep records of the policies and many have since been lost or destroyed.

Benjamin Simon and Sons was taken over by Rushbeam Ltd in 1988. Rushbeam was dissolved in 1999. Insurers for the company post 1988 have come forward but are not liable for earlier claims.

Thompsons are now appealing to members of the public to come forward with any information about they may have about Benjamin Simon and Sons’ insurers from the years 1954 to 1981.

Thompsons would also like to hear from any ex employees who may have made claims against the company for a period of employment prior to 1988.

Irene worked in the coat room for the firm where she was responsible for hand sewing lapels on jackets set for department stores across the world.

Diagnosed with mesothelioma

She was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2003 and died a year later. The disease is caused by exposure to asbestos and there is no cure.

Irene was exposed to the dangerous material daily. It was used to lag pipes and steam presses used by her colleagues in the press room.

Before she died she remembered: “In view of the amount of dust in the atmosphere, it was impossible to avoid inhalation. Each day I would work from 9am to 4pm and inhale the dust continuously throughout this period as there was never any suggestion that we needed masks for this type of work. “

Irene left behind a son, Alan, 58 and daughter Shirley, 61 and three grandsons.

Her daughter, Shirley Clarkson, from Drighlington, Bradford, said her mum suffered terribly during the last months of her life.

She urged anyone with any information about her mum’s former employers to come forward to so they could finally gain justice for her death.

She said: “Mesothelioma is a terrible disease. My mum was in agonising pain for eight months before she was eventually diagnosed. By the time she was diagnosed she did not have the strength to fight for compensation.

“She was a lady and she took it as fact that she was ill as a result of her work but for her family this compensation means someone has accepted responsibility for how my mum died.

“It is frustrating to know that we have been awarded this compensation but we cannot find the insurance company responsible.”

Oliver Collett, client representative at Thompsons Solicitors added: “Mrs Stephenson’s family have been awarded compensation from the High Court of Justice which agrees that her employers were negligent in exposing her to asbestos.

“However, because such a long time scale has passed between the exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma and the company has gone into administration we have been unable to unearth details of the insurers who would have covered Benjamin Simon and Sons during the 1950s.

“It is clear that insurance cover would have been in place during the time that Mrs Stephenson worked for Benjamin Simon and Sons. It is a travesty of justice that the correct insurer has not come forward or made itself easy to trace."

“We would urge anyone who has any information at all about the company from the 1954 to 1981 to get in touch with us so Mrs Stephenson’s family can family can enforce the judgment of the courts and receive what is rightfully theirs.”

Anyone who has any information about Benjamin Simon and Sons should contact Oliver Collett on 0113 205 6300.