This year’s International Women’s Day theme reads as follows:

Imagine a gender equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

Together we can forge women’s equality.

Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias

This short article highlights a number of inspirational women who have been at the forefront of the mesothelioma community over the last century and have certainly broken the bias along the way:

Neillie Kershaw

Nellie Kershaw was the first reported medical case of an asbestos related death in 1924.  Neillie died from asbestosis.  Nellie, from Rochdale started working in the industry aged only 12 transferring to Turner Brothers Asbestos as a spinner in 1917.  She started experiencing health problems at the age of 29 but continued to work with asbestos until 1922, before she sadly passed away.

The inquest of her death changed the way asbestos was viewed forever. When Nellie’s death certificate was issued on 2nd April 1924, it cited ‘fibrosis of the lungs due to the inhalation of mineral particles’ as the cause of death, paving the way for what it known today as ‘Asbestosis’.

This led to the publication of the first Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931, a crucial development of statutory duty on those working within the industry. This would eventually lead to more far-reaching statutory duties in the form of the Factories Act 1961, Asbestos Regulations 1969 and Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1987.  These are the regulations which lawyers tend to rely upon when pursuing claims on behalf of mesothelioma and asbestos related disease sufferers in the twenty first century.

Nora Dockerty

Nora Dockerty’s family were the first in the UK to receive compensation for her death from an asbestos related disease in 1952.  Nora worked at Turner Brothers Asbestos in Rochdale for 13 years.  The law firm of Messrs John Whittle, Robinson & Bailey were instructed to act for the family. The case was settled in January 1952 when Turner & Newall, Turner Brother Asbestos’ parent company, paid the sum of £375 with costs.

The Dockerty family paved the way for many thousands to families to follow in their footsteps and pursue companies across the UK for their negligence and failure to protect their workers; men and women alike.

Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson

In 1965, Dr Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson published an article titled “Mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum following exposure to asbestos in the London area”.

The report highlighted that even low levels of exposure to respirable asbestos dust could lead to the development of mesothelioma with a focus on what is known today as ‘secondary exposure’ or ‘overalls cases’, where typically wives who washed their husband’s overalls or work clothes went on to develop mesothelioma.

The decision to challenge the status quo by Dr Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson created an important link enabling claims to be bought by those exposed to asbestos by washing their husband’s overalls after this date.

As a result, a large number of mesothelioma compensation claims on behalf of women and children exposed to asbestos via contaminated overalls have gone on to be successful.  Such cases include women laundering overalls contaminated with asbestos from sites such as steelworks, power stations and from tradesmen such as electricians or laggers to name but a few. Without this research paper this avenue to justice would not be possible.

June Hancock and Evelyn Margerson.

June and Evelyn both pursued Turner & Newalls for environmental exposure to asbestos from the Armley Factory, Leeds.

June, sadly developed Mesothelioma which resulted in her sad death on 19th June 1997 while Evelyn’s husband, Arthur Margereson sadly passed away from Mesothelioma in 1991. Both families lived in close proximity to the factory but never actually worked in the factory.

This decision is important, as it set a precedent that the duty of care owed by an employer extended beyond employees to those who lived nearby and suffered deadly environmental exposure.

This has led to many legal cases being successfully pursued by local residents against the owners of large asbestos factories across the UK.  A particular focus has been on the large number of residents from Barking who sadly developed mesothelioma having grown up or gone to school in the shadow of the Cape Asbestos factory in the area.

Lynne Squibb

Lynne’s father died of mesothelioma and one of the main points identified by Lynne was the lack of information and support for mesothelioma patients and their families compared to other cancers. In 2006 Lynne set up HASAG Asbestos Disease support as a charity to help support patients and their families who are diagnosed with mesothelioma. The charity has grown from strength to strength and now run several support groups across London and the South of England; they also provide expert advice and support to patient’s on how to claim benefits and access specialist legal advice around compensation. HASAG also offer patients and carers the chance to access specialist counselling giving people the chance to talk about fears and anxieties in a safe space. Lynne has recognised that not all cancers are treated equally, and that some patient’s really suffer from a lack of support and information. She has set out to address this inequality with the work that HASAG do and continues to campaign with others for greater research into treatment and the impact of mesothelioma on patients ‘physical and psychological wellbeing.

Mavis Nye

In the 1950s Mavis met Ray Nye who at the time was undertaking an Apprenticeship at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. Unbeknown to Mavis and Ray, Ray was being exposed to fine asbestos fibres that clung to his clothes as he hugged Mavis.

Mavis was diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2009 and has since worked tirelessly to raise awareness of Mesothelioma, working with likeminded victims, leading to the establishment of the ‘Mesowarriors’ who have gained an international reputation for their support and advice.  Further Mavis has established the Mavis Nye Foundation ‘to give hope to fellow victims and show light at the end of the tunnel’.  The Foundation also sponsor specialist nurses and provide funding to research projects.

Liz Darlison and Mesothelioma UK

Liz is the Chief Executive Officer of Mesothelioma UK.  Mesothelioma UK is a national specialist resource centre, specifically for the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. The charity is dedicated to providing specialist mesothelioma information, support and education, and to improving care and treatment for all UK mesothelioma patients and their carers.

Mesothelioma UK have a network of nurses across the UK who are each focused on ensuring Mesothelioma expertise is available at the front door of the NHS.

Liz was awarded an MBE in 2019 for services to Cancer Research and Patients in honour of her work.

This piece was written by :

Angharad Jones


Hugh James