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Southport Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:-  8 May 2006

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Lords slash asbestos compensation

MESOTHELIOMA sufferers and their families face massive cuts in their compensation for the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, as a result of a ruling announced by the House of Lords this week.

The employers of 2 men who died of mesothelioma have won an appeal to change the law, with the result that their widows, Sylvia Barker and Mary Murray, will not get full compensation. Both widows have lost an appeal mounted by their husbands’ former employers to change the law, because their late husbands had more than 1 employer and at least 1 of those no longer exists or was not insured.

The decision will deprive thousands of claimants of their full entitlement to compensation for mesothelioma. The law lords’ decision follows the defeat of an attempt by insurers to end compensation for mesothelioma sufferers altogether in test cases in 2002. The insurance industry is now likely to save 10s of millions of pounds annually.

The legal team that represented the families includes the specialist law firms Thompsons Solicitors and John Pickering & Partners.

One local woman whose case will be affected by the hearing is Mrs Beryl Gray, the widow of Peter Gray who died a tragic and painful death from mesothelioma in August 2003.

Mrs Gray, from Wirral, said today:- “I’ve had 3 years of misery since Peter died a painful death from this terrible disease. Employers and insurance companies care more about the money than they do about being fair to people like me and my husband who suffered so much. Peter didn’t want to die and he certainly didn’t want his employers who killed him to avoid their legal responsibility. Justice hasn’t been done.”

From 1942 to 1988, Mr Gray worked as an electrician at a number of companies including MANWEB in Birkenhead, BNFL LTD (formerly United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Capenhurst, and Vauxhall Motors, Ellesmere Port.

Joanne Candlish, from Thompsons Solicitors in Liverpool, explains:- "The court has, on a legal technicality which will make no sense to anyone but the driest of lawyers, deprived our client of full compensation for the death of her husband. The real winner here is the insurance industry which now stands to save billions of pounds. We will be urging Trade Unions and asbestos victim support groups to press for legislation to counteract this massive injustice."

Sylvia Barker, 58, of Hollywell, Flintshire said:- “I’m angry that after these people took away Vernon’s life, they are adding insult to injury. They admitted that they should have protected him from asbestos. I can’t understand why the House of Lords would change the law to save them paying for what they have done.”

This important change in the law has far reaching implications: 1,800 people die each year of mesothelioma and the numbers are rising. Many had contact with asbestos in more than one job. It is common for employers to have ceased trading, with no trace of their insurers. The majority of people diagnosed with mesothelioma were innocent employees who were exposed to asbestos at work without being warned of the dangers.


SOUTHPORT Flower Show has announced the launch of this year’s David Bellamy Schools competition, involving children from around the region in the annual four day event which this year takes place from 17 to 20 August 2006 at Victoria Park.

Julia Humphreys, operations director for Southport Flower Show explained:- “We are keen to make the event relevant and fun for youngsters. This is a great opportunity to promote the importance of flowers, gardens and nature in general to children and to encourage creative thinking in garden design.”

The competition is open to North West primary school children, years 5 and 6 and over 200 schools have been sent entry forms. Children are being invited to design a garden based on Southport Flower Show’s theme for this year which is water, allowing plenty of scope for imaginative children.

Now in its 8th year, over £1600 in prize money is on offer for the school’s competition and the nation’s most famous botanist David Bellamy will chair the judging panel and meet all the winning designers. The 3 winning garden designs will be brought to life and constructed at Southport Flower Show and the 3 winning children will be given £500 towards their school library and be presented with a personal gift token for £50. To encourage more children to visit the Show, under 16’s are admitted free when accompanied by a full paying adult, so the competition provides another opportunity for youngsters to support their schoolmates if they reach the final, whilst also enjoying Southport Flower Show’s family attractions that include street entertainers, dog displays and face-painting!

The closing date for entries for the schools competition is Friday 2 June 2006. If you would like an entry form please contact Southport Flower Show office on 01704 547147 or visit


JUST as Britain led the way with industrialisation in the 19th century, we are looking to lead the world in changing the work culture in the 21st.  An initiative which aims to make the UK the most progressive economy in the world was launched at the QEII Conference Centre in London.

Called Work Wise UK, the initiative will encourage the widespread adoption of smarter working practices, such as flexible working, remote working, mobile working and working from home. Adopting this modern day approach to working lives will increase business productivity and competitiveness, reduce transport congestion and pollution, improve health, assist disadvantaged groups, and harmonise our work and family commitments.

Meg Munn MP, DTI Minister for Women and Equality, said:- “Smarter working should be integral in a modern economy. It increases productivity, competitiveness and helps our economy perform better in the global marketplace. It also helps people – it enables us to lead more fulfilled lives – having greater choice about how we balance our work with our family commitments. These flexible work practices benefit us all.”

An increasingly complex world means that employers and employees have to strive to use their resources effectively; the one to gain better productivity, the other to balance work-life pressures.

CBI Director-General, Sir Digby Jones, who spoke at the Work Wise summit, said:- “Flexible, smarter working is here to stay. Nine out of ten requests from staff to work flexibly have been accepted by employers and the UK leads the rest of Europe in numbers of part-time workers. New technologies will help more people in the future to ‘telework’ from home or on the move.  These new ways of working have benefits for companies seeking to recruit, motivate and retain valued staff and for employees who have hectic or demanding lives. More flexible working benefits the economy through higher productivity and reduced transport pressure.  The challenge for us all is to strike the right balance - both in and outside of work - and achieve the maximum flexibility whilst still meeting the needs of our businesses and customers.”

It is recognised that the UK workforce is now among the hardest working in the world, an amazing transformation since the 1970s when the country was viewed as the “sick man of Europe”. Today, this work ethic results in the UK average working week being among the longest in Europe.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, also speaking at the summit, was keen to see working hours reduced through smarter working:- "Our long hours culture is damaging the UK's productivity prospects. British men work the longest hours in Europe and this isn't helping their firms become more productive, nor is it good for the health of these long hours employees or the happiness of their families. The attitude of employers is the biggest barrier we face to a better work/life balance. Unfortunately too few employers have yet to grasp the concept that flexible working not only makes for sound business sense but is also good news for overworked individuals.  With statistics showing that only 1 in 7 UK employees is able to work from home occasionally and just 1 in 10 is allowed to work flexibly, we still have a long, long way to go before a decent work/life balance can be achieved by everyone at work. Those employers who have been bold enough to embrace flexibility are more likely to recruit and retain staff and are less likely to suffer from high levels of staff absence. A more flexible approach to work is the direction in which we want to be going and I call on the UK's employers to work with unions and the Government to make Britain a better, more productive place to work."

The advantages of an improved work-life balance are well-documented, and although the UK is embracing smarter working practices, there is a huge scope for improvement. Currently, there are 5.4 million employees who work through some kind of flexible working agreement, of which 2.2 million are men and 3.2 million are women (Labour Force Survey, Autumn 2005). Of these totals, 3.3 million work from home in some form (LFS Microdata Service).

“Work Wise UK will accelerate the change in working practices towards a culture that helps balance work and life commitments,” said Phil Flaxton, chief executive of the IT Forum Foundation, the organiser of Work Wise UK, which was established in 1983 as a not-for-profit undertaking.  “Work Wise UK is about changing working culture for the better, changing the way people work, giving them the skills to work smarter, to work more efficiently,” he said.

Meg Munn MP continued:- “We’ve seen evidence that flexible working is making a difference to people’s lives. But to really change the way we work and maximise the benefits for everyone, we need to encourage the widespread adoption of smarter working practices.”

The start of Work Wise UK involves a period of discussions and planning, led by the CBI and TUC, on how to deliver the vision of up to half the working population working smarter by the end of the decade. This consultation will culminate with the publication of a concordat – a document with across-the-board support which details the vision and how it will be achieved.

Work Wise Week (3 to 9 May) will mark the start of the 3-year Work Wise UK programme during which it is hoped many thousands of companies and organisations will sign-up to the concordat and implement smarter working practices to the benefit of their business, their employees, and the country as a whole.

Further information about Work Wise Week and Work Wise UK can be found at

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