The Court of Appeal ruled that dock workers who were registered under the National Dock Labour Board scheme can sue the government if they develop an asbestos related disease.

Thousands of dock workers, who were employed in ports around the UK like Hull, Merseyside, Tyneside and on the Thames will benefit from the decision which will make it easier for those with conditions such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural thickening, to claim compensation.

Many of those affected were exposed to dangerous asbestos dust while removing raw asbestos from cargo ships in port.

The asbestos was imported during the 1950 and 1960s in sacks, which would often split as they were unloaded. The dockers were never provided with any protection from the harmful dust.

Until now some workers had to identify the individual ship owners to claim compensation. Many of the shipping companies no longer exist.

A test case heard last year paved the way for dock workers and their families to sue the Government instead.

But lawyers for the Department of Trade and Industry took the case to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to reverse the High Court ruling.

A successful appeal would have blocked many dockers' compensation claims.

Head of Asbestos Policy

Ian McFall, head of asbestos policy at trade union firm Thompsons Solicitors, who act for many former dock employees said: "I welcome this decision which will benefit many families across the UK. It's good news for them that this appeal has been upheld.

"Thousands of tonnes of raw asbestos was imported through UK ports resulting in dock workers being exposed to appalling dusty conditions. These workers were not given any protection from the dangerous cargo they unloaded every day.

"Before this decision, dockers faced an uphill and sometimes impossible struggle to bring a claim when they develop asbestos related illness.

"This decision means that many of them will now stand a better chance of obtaining compensation"