North East shipyard worker convinced Prime Minister Tony Blair to step in to make sure hundreds of North East asbestos victims received their right to full compensation.

Michael Blench, a former GMB shop steward at the Swan Hunter yard in Wallsend, told how he persuaded Mr Blair changed the law to help his dying colleagues.

Now, just four weeks later, asbestos victims and their families are celebrating after their right to full compensation has been restored and is now law under the Compensation Act 2006.

Michael, 51, and now working at McNulty Offshore in South Shields, said he was proud that Mr Blair had listened to his plea.

He said: “I feel proud that I could do something to help. I feel quite privileged to have been able to question the Prime Minister on such an important issue and I am pleased that he has now done something to help the victims. It is of tremendous benefit to everyone in the North East where asbestos-related disease affects hundreds who worked on the Tyne’s shipyards and beyond.”

Tony Blair was questioned about mesothelioma claims

Michael, was briefed by Thompsons Solicitors' Newcastle office and the Northern office of the GMB to ask the Prime Minister the question after an unjust House of Lords ruling over mesothelioma payouts.

The ruling left victims of the devastating disease in limbo after the courts made it harder to bring a successful case against employers where claimants had worked for more than one company.

If the ruling was upheld some widows of asbestos victims would have lost more than £100,000 in compensation each.

When Mr Blair heard about the situation from Michael he promised to do all he could to help victims by amending the Compensation Bill.

At the time he said: “I regret that judgement. I'm looking at the moment to see the best opportunity for us to change it.

"If we can change it, we will. I hope to announce something on this in a couple of weeks."

The Compensation Act 2006 now entitles victims and their families the right to claim their full compensation from employers.

GMB regional secretary Tom Brennan said Michael had carried out an important job for hundreds of North East asbestos victims and thousands in the future.

He said: “Justice is done. Michael’s question brought the Prime Minister to realise that the House of Lords ruling was wrong and he has rectified that in this new law.”

Head of Asbestos Litigation at Thompsons Solicitors in Newcastle, Ian McFall led the campaign to restore full compensation for victims.

He said: “The House of Lords decision devastated victims around the country.

“Michael helped raise awareness of our campaign at the highest level in government and the end result means victims and their families now have the right to claim full compensation.

“If it had not been for the GMB and Michael’s efforts we might still be fighting this terrible injustice today.”

Timeline showing how the compensation was slashed and then fully restored

Wednesday, 3 May 2006
The House of Lords rules that employers are only liable to compensate asbestos victims in respect of their ‘share’ of damages. The ruling means hundreds of asbestos claimants could miss out on thousands of pounds worth of compensation.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Michael Blench asks Tony Blair to reverse the House of Lords ruling on mesothelioma claimants’ compensation. He is given the Prime Minister’s assurance that he will help.

Monday, July 17, 2006
The Compensation Bill is given its third reading including an amendment by the Prime Minister to reverse the House of Lords decision on claimants’ compensation.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Compensation Bill is given royal assent and comes into force paving the way for victims to claim for full compensation.

The Evening Chronicle also published this story.  To read their version visit "Victory in victims' cash battle".