On 26th February 2000 Brian Thompson, son of Thompsons' founder WH Thompson, died suddenly at home. He is greatly missed by everyone who knew him.

Brian Thompsons's career in the law spanned half a century, he became a leading expert in workplace accident, employment and trade union law, making a lasting contribution on behalf of Trade Unions and their members.

He was a reluctant lawyer, following the premature death of his father (WH Thompson) in 1947, Brian's mother (Joan Beauchamp) and brother Robin persuaded him to leave his work as a research chemist, train as a solicitor and join the family firm WH Thompson.

Brian was articled with the firm and despite refusing to take a single lecture note sailed through his law exams and qualified as a solicitor in 1951. The brothers found themselves in their mid twenties as the sole partners running WH Thompson.

Their father had built a formidable reputation as a radical civil rights lawyer. A conscientious objector in the first world war, he had represented and then married the prominent suffragette and friend of the Pankhursts Joan Beauchamp. A founder member of the National Council For Civil Liberties, he acted for many prominent labour movement figures: Ramsay Macdonald, George Lansbury and the Poplar labour councillors.

The Brian and Robin partnership was to become as formidable. While employers had access to the most expensive lawyers, workers and trade unions had access to the Thompson brothers. It was a partnership which played a major role in shaping social security, employers liability and employment law.

During the 1950s and 60s Brian took National Insurance and Industrial Injury Act appeals to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. He challenged the conservative application of benefits legislation to the victims of industrial accidents, often succeeding only to face new regulations designed to defeat his success.

Many significant appeal cases were to follow, interpreting the new factory and construction laws which governed safety at factories and on building sites. Brian became a master of the complex Construction Regulations and used his expertise to gain compensation for the injured and help reduce the toll of death and injury in a notoriously dangerous industry.

One of Brian's landmark employment cases was Rookes v Barnard in 1964 where the House of Lords in an overtly political decision - tried to reverse 60 years of trade union rights by inventing the civil wrong of "intimidation" during industrial disputes.

The decision infuriated the trade unions, caused a political furore and only strengthened Brian's contempt for the establishment. The Labour Government reversed the decision by passing the Trade Disputes Act 1965 preserving the right to withdraw labour, the minimum necessary.

More was to follow with Stratford v Lindley and then the advent of the Heath government and the ill fated Industrial Relations Act. The conflict between unions and the National Industrial Relations Court headed by Sir John Donaldson, became the graveyard of legal interference in industrial relations. The AUEW defied the court throughout, the TGWU frequently held in contempt and both subject to fines, threats of sequestration and imprisonment.

A dilemma for the incoming Labour government of 1974 was how to salvage the reputation of the courts with unions refusing to pay fines and obey court orders. One then controversial suggestion was to invite payment of outstanding fines by third parties, an idea offered by Brian and gratefully received.

He was the first solicitor to appear in person before the House of Lords. Having won the right of appeal on his own the case itself was then lost when he was forced to hand it over to barristers for the full hearing. He had some good friends amongst senior barristers and judges, but he was never overawed by the Bar and Judiciary.

During this time the Thompson brothers developed a simple and effective philosophy to force compensation for injured workers out of a reluctant insurance industry: fast and aggressive legal action. It was so successful and radically different that it became a benchmark for the future and the firm grew, as did its reputation.

Along with fast and aggressive legal action Thompsons started to select and target employers in a series of major test cases brought by injured employees. This was a type of strategic legal action never seen before: they had invented the "class action".

The first victory was against employers who had poisoned their workforce with asbestos. It was a decision which reverberated around the world with similar test cases run in other countries. More was to come: industrial deafness, welder's lung, pneumoconiosis and other industrial diseases.

Brian co-authored with Robin "Accidents at work" which was distributed free to union stewards and became a bible to many. The book went into six reprints in three years and into nearly every major workplace, helping spread a knowledge of health, safety and accident law and their message that accidents happened because employers paid too little attention to the health and safety of the workforce.

Brian continued working as a consultant for Thompsons until his sudden death. He was a brilliant and unusual man, with a wide range of interests: particularly a love of nature and concern for the environment before it became fashionable.

Rodney Bickerstaffe