Cancer from asbestos dust `is like lottery'

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Breathing asbestos dust was like buying lottery tickets and no one could tell which particles caused individual cancers, one of Britain's biggest engineering companies claimed in the Court of Appeal yesterday.

T&N was trying to overturn a High Court judge's landmark decision last October that it must pay damages to two people who as children played in the drifts of white dust which blanketed the roads around their homes.

It was the first time that a court had awarded compensation for asbestos claims made by anyone other than those who had worked in a plant.

William Woodward QC, for T&N, told three judges yesterday that it could never be known when and where a person developed the cancer of the lung lining, mesothelioma.

One of the victims, Arthur Margereson, had played around the factory of JW Roberts in Armley, Leeds, which made insulating mattresses for boilers, for eight years before the dangers were realised and the factory owners became liable to protect people from the risks.

"While he was at school and playing around the area he was also breathing in asbestos dust for which T&N were not liable."

Mr Woodward said Mr Margereson, who had lived in the area since 1925, was exposed during his childhood to "guilty dust" and "not guilty dust" depending on whether he was within the main danger area and it could not be determined which dust produced mesothelioma.

But Lord Justice Russell said that the line that had to be drawn was where, outside the factory walls, the risk of personal injury became less than a real possibility.

"It is not a very attractive argument for the factory owner to agree that mountains of asbestos dust were created but these cases of cancer were not the result of that," he said.

In what has become a test case for up to 40 other cases in the Armley area and possibly 500 nationally, Evelyn Margereson, 70, was awarded pounds 50,000 by the High Court in Leeds for the death five years ago of her husband, Arthur, who had mesothelioma.

June Hancock, 60, who played in the dust in the late Thirties and early Forties, is also suffering from the same cancer, was awarded pounds 65,000.

Mr Woodward said that in the Leeds judgment, Mr Justice Holland had failed to define where the area of risk lay outside the factory walls.

T&N (known as Turner and Newall until 1987), has already paid pounds 250m worldwide to people directly affected by asbestosis and other related diseases.

The hearing continues today.