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Asbestos Related Illnesses

Industrial Diseases – A Legal Point of View



Former Customs Officer Successfully Sues Revenue & Customs After Asbestos Exposure


A former customs officer has successfully sued his employers, HM Revenue & Customs after being exposed to asbestos after he was asked to search ships for illegal contraband.

Paul Brett of Thatcham, Berkshire started his career with Customs & Excise in 1963 and became a preventative office at Gravesend and Tilbury Customs Stations. It was while searching the boiler rooms of ships that he came into contact with asbestos.

His solicitor, Brigitte Chandler, an industrial disease specialist with Thames Valley law firm, Charles Lucas & Marshall, has now settled a six figure compensation sum with HM Revenue & Customs who accepted liability and admitted a breach of duty in not providing Mr Brett with proper protective clothing.

Asbestos was widely used on ships in the past, including naval and merchant navy ships,” said Brigitte Chandler. “While there have been numerous asbestos claims in dockyards and from merchant seaman, there have not been huge numbers of cases involving the Inland Revenue.

“However, if customs officers had to daily go on board ships to search for contraband, they were exposed in the same way as seamen. The number of people dying from asbestos disease is likely to peak in the next few years and obviously people who did similar work are at risk.”

Mr Brett worked for HM Revenue & Customs for 43 years, retiring in 2006, receiving regular promotions and finishing his career at the Revenue’s head office in London, visiting other country’s law enforcement agencies and advising on best practice.

He was always fit and healthy but while on holiday in New Zealand last year, complained of breathlessness. On his return to the UK he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

“Contraband can be very cleverly concealed so Mr Brett would have had to carry out exhaustive searches,” says Brigitte Chandler. “Often asbestos linings in pipes had to be partly removed and he had to climb on top of boilers covered in asbestos and search behind lagged pipe work.

“When he did this his overalls would be covered in asbestos dust and there were no shower facilities. He took the dust home with him.”

As well as aircraft, Mr Brett was part of a mobile crew that searched vessels at Sheerness, Rochester and Southampton.

In 2001 a regional charity was launched for asbestos sufferers and their families. It provides advice and information about DSS benefits and support groups. It can be contacted on 01793 532995 or info@asbestosgroup.co.uk or www.asbestosgroup.co.uk

For further information contact Brigitte Chandler on 01793-511055 or brigitte.chandler@clmlaw.co.uk

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