Posted by Jennifer Seavor, Partner
Claim settled for former Bank of England employee who died from mesothelioma
Lizzie Petersen was employed by the Bank of England as a banking clerk at their premises on Castle Street, Liverpool between 1957 and 1964. She was only a young woman at the time. Sadly, decades later Lizzie became poorly and was given the tragic news that she had developed mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.
Lizzie had never worked with asbestos in her life. She thought back to her time at the Bank of England when extensive building and renovation works were undertaken at the premises on Castle Street. The works were carried out by various firms and included work in the basement of the premises, where the bank’s vaults were situated. The Bank asked banking clerks, including Lizzie, to sit in the basement to supervise whilst the workmen carried out renovation works for fear that they would steal gold bullion from the vaults.
Tradesmen knocked down walls, removed pipework and pulled down walls and ceiling tiles then installed new. Lizzie recalled being covered from head to toe in dust whilst supervising the works. The clerks were even given ‘dirty money’ to pay for dry cleaning and laundering of their clothes due to the extent of the dust. Whilst the clerks were provided with masks to wear, these were very lightweight and did not prevent the inhalation of dust.
Following her diagnosis, Lizzie approached our specialist asbestos diseases team and we visited Lizzie at her home and talk through her memories of her working life. Understandably, whilst Lizzie had a good recollection of her time at the Bank and how dusty it was, she did not know if asbestos materials had been disturbed thereby exposing her to the toxic dust.
Lizzie was able to provide some contact details for colleagues she had worked with, some of whom were able to provide witness statements in support of Lizzie’s claim but they too could not confirm the presence of asbestos.
A letter of claim was sent to the Bank of England but liability was denied and no disclosure was provided to show whether or not asbestos was removed at the time. Our team carried out extensive research and investigations into the works at the Bank of England’s Castle Street premises. Witness appeals were launched in newspapers and significant online enquiries made.
Folders of potentially relevant documents were located online and based at the Bank of England’s archives in London. We made numerous visits to the archive and trawled through 1000s of pages of historic documents which led to the discovery of papers showing the extent of the works undertaken and describing the dirty and dusty conditions. These contemporaneous documents held clues which turned out to be crucial evidence, in particular references to names of men involved in the works and the companies that were contracted by the Bank to undertake the building and renovation.
Further searches were undertaken for witnesses and another witness appeal was done which led to a man coming forward who worked as an apprentice plumber and pipe fitter for a company called Young Austen Young at the time and who was involved on the job at the Liverpool based branch. He confirmed that he was involved in removing pipework from the basement of the bank which was covered in asbestos lagging which disintegrated as the task was done, meaning all those in the vicinity were liable to be exposed to asbestos.
The evidence was collated and disclosed to the solicitors acting for the Bank of England but liability was still not admitted. Court proceedings had to be commenced and expert engineering evidence obtained before the Bank’s insurers were prepared to negotiate settlement. The claim then concluded out of court for a substantial sum.
Sadly, Lizzie passed away before her claim could be concluded, but her husband continued the matter for her realising it was important to prove that this was where Lizzie was exposed to asbestos which tragically led to her premature death.
Lizzie’s husband said:
My wife died because she, in her youth, was exposed to asbestos where she worked. Royds Withy King worked for over three years to produce evidence of her employer’s responsibility. They succeeded in obtaining a substantial compensation. I am very impressed by the effort which was put into the necessary research.