Patricia Jolliffe, Thompsons Solicitors client

Patricia Jolliffe, from Stanford-le-Hope in Essex, lost her husband Alan on Christmas Eve in 2014 as a result of mesothelioma.

Alan was employed as an apprentice carpenter between 1946 and 1951 by Thurrock Council. From 1972, he became a general foreman and then a building surveyor for the same local authority until his retirement in 1991.

A UNISON member, Alan was unknowingly exposed to asbestos for much of his working life while inspecting local authority buildings.

It was this exposure at work that caused the breathing problems he suffered throughout 2014, causing him to be in and out of hospital with fluid build-up in his lung. However, it was not until the post-mortem result that mesothelioma was diagnosed.

After mesothelioma was confirmed as Alan’s cause of death, Patricia, known to her family as Pat, spoke to her own and her late husband’s union, UNISON, who instructed Thompsons Solicitors to pursue a claim on Pat’s behalf.

Despite repeated attempts by Thompsons Solicitors to encourage Thurrock Council and their insurers to deal with the claim - including disclosure of damning evidence gathered from Alan’s former colleagues - the claim was consistently ignored. 

“The problem of asbestos in workplaces and schools has been ignored for far too long."

Chris Jenkinson, UNISON’s Eastern regional secretary

It was only after the issuing of Court proceedings in November 2017 that the Council finally admitted liability for Alan’s death, leading Thompsons Solicitors to be able to negotiate a sum of compensation for the family in December 2017. 

Most importantly for Pat was the admission of fault, a huge victory after being brushed aside for so long.

Pat said: “All I want is to help other victims or their families to know where to go for specialist support and advice if they find themselves in the same awful situation as me. It’s not about the money. Alan should not have been taken from us so soon. For me it became about making sure those responsible were held to account. It seems to me that the Council and their insurers just hoped we would go away but Thompsons Solicitors and UNISON supported me and my family all the way.”

Pat was supported by Lorna Webster, our specialist asbestos solicitor based in Dagenham. 

“Lorna was fantastic – with her local knowledge and expertise in asbestos matters, she was able to find a number of Alan’s former colleagues, secured supportive statements from them and she obtained answers we were searching for. On my own I would have given up long ago, in view of the Council’s attitude, but Lorna went the extra mile for me to ensure they were forced to own up to their failings.”

Lorna said: “Where we have to we issue cases such as Alan’s in the specialist section of the High Court in London using our national size and specialist expertise to fight for victims and their families where other firms simply give up. Having handled asbestos claims for so long, I know it can take a lot of hard work, dedication to a case and particularly knowledge of where to look and how to gather evidence to force defendants to accept blame and admit they caused the death of a former worker. This particular case should have been settled by the Council and its insurers long ago, but they simply refused to properly deal with it until we issued Court proceedings. Why they put Pat and her family through this additional upset and turmoil is beyond me.

“We are committed to our clients and we are always prepared to go the extra mile – whether that be to obtain expert evidence from specialists or to search through decades of previous cases in order to get the evidence we need to get the right result.”

UNISON’s Eastern regional secretary Chris Jenkinson said: “The problem of asbestos in workplaces and schools has been ignored for far too long. 

"We need tougher regulations to force employers to remove asbestos safely and not put their staff at risk of exposure.

“Sadly, for people like Alan, the failure of employers to protect workers has cost them their lives."