From time to time, the asbestos team here releases a story to the press about a case we're dealing with. Primarily we do this when we're looking for witnesses to a claim, on behalf of a family who have lost someone to mesothelioma, usually a father or a husband who has worked hard their whole lives without knowing that their workplace has proved a fatal environment.
Obviously it can be fairly distressing for a family having to go over the details of the last months of losing someone to such a cruel disease. But in many cases, it's worth it because a photo or a story jogs the memory of a long-lost friend or colleague who offers important details about working conditions.
More often than not, they also confirm that the employer failed to provide sufficient protection for employees, something that underpins many of our compensation claims. This is particularly useful where the claimant and the family can't remember specific details of a working life which usually goes back years. Let's face it, most of us would struggle to recall such details.
Our most recent case was featured in the Telegraph and in several local papers. Frederick Hodge worked as a maintenance engineer in the Houses of Parliament during the 1970s and 1980s. Most days, he came into contact with pipes and boilers lagged with asbestos. Sadly, he died in the summer without knowing that he was suffering from mesothelioma, very likely caused by his long years of service.
The Telegraph was interested in the story for two reasons – one, because Mr Hodge's sons Malcom and Stephen discovered that their father had kept detailed work diaries for 20 years of his time at the Houses of Parliament, some of which indicated his unease with the safety conditions and the way air quality was monitored. And secondly, because Mr Hodge's fate forewarns that hundreds of other people working in the iconic building could also have been affected – and that includes not only other maintenance staff but also civil servants and MPs.
The story was particularly timely since MPs are about to vote whether to up sticks and exit en masse to other facilities while the Palace of Westminster and other buildings undergo essential repairs. If they do so, it would be the first time MPs have moved out since bombing in the Second World War.
A report last year estimated that if MPs stayed in the building during the restoration work, the cost could be as much as £7.1bn. Forcing MPs and peers to move into temporary accommodation for six years would halve the cost, with the overall expense closer to £4bn.
Part of the reason for moving out would be to protect people working there from asbestos that would be released when walls and structures were demolished or repaired. Mr Hodge's case raises the unwelcome spectre that, despite these safety precautions, many people will have unknowingly been working there in the presence of fatal dust for years.
We did receive a couple of responses to the story from the public, which hopefully will prove useful and help settle the claim on behalf of Malcolm and Stephen. One response was unrelated to Mr Hodge's specific case but was from the widow of a man who died in 2006 aged 73 from work related mesothelioma.
Pauline Brearley's husband Colin was also an engineer and, according to Pauline, didn't have a sick note in all his working life until retiring aged 66. Fortunately, she has had a claim settled.
She wrote to us thanking us for getting Mr Hodge's story into the press because she feels strongly that not enough publicity is given to the dangers of asbestos, "even now when it is present in so many schools and public buildings".
Colin didn't work in such a high-profile building as the Houses of Parliament, but his story was reported locally in the Yorkshire Post. Colin and Frederick are rare examples of mesothelioma tragedies that reach the general public. Thousands of other ordinary people working in ordinary buildings die too soon from asbestos-related cancers, most of whom the public never hears about.
Read the Telegraph story here.