Friday 26 November 2010

The long arm of the law

This week seems to have been dominated by Steve's damages case.  We met the solicitor on Monday to go though all the things Steve had remembered after reading the documents disclosed by one of the defendants. 

The good news is that no one disputes Steve's account of events which we think were the most likely cause of exposure to asbestos dust - knocking down walls to create a big open plan studio in the School of Architecture where he was a student in the 1970s.  The bad news is how difficult it is to prove "beyond reasonable doubt"  that the work he did actually disturbed asbestos in quantities above the background levels generally found in the atmosphere.  

No detailed construction drawings have been disclosed specifying how concerns about fire resistance were addressed. Although asbestos is the obvious answer, proof is needed.  The walls were demolished nearly 40 years ago so the physical evidence is long gone.  A report on asbestos in the building dated 1983 states that most of the asbestos insulation and lining had been removed since 1974. Frustratingly, there are very few records of what was taken out of where during this period, and nothing specific the the part of the building where he was involved in demolition works.  

We are therefore looking at what has been found in the building since the 1980s, including floor tiles and adhesive, panels under windows and paper linings to pipework and under insulation in service ducts, all of which have since been sampled and found to contain asbestos of various types which could have been exposed or potentially damaged when the open plan studio was created.  

The other avenue to explore was to inspect the building as it stands today to see if there are any remnants of materials still in situ which might contain asbestos.  That inspection took place on Tuesday, with ourselves, our expert witness and various people from one of the defendants.  As a result of that inspection, our man has asked for more samples to be taken from a couple of places which may help Steve's case.

The next piece in the jigsaw arrived today - an updated statement for Steve to check through, amend where necessary and send back to the solicitor.  

Next Monday there will be a pre-trial hearing with our team and the defendants.  We won't be there, but will find out what happens afterwards. The long arm of the law is therefore stretching out at present, but whether it will find anything still remains to be seen.

We've had enough of court paperwork for the time being. It's less than two weeks now to Steve's next scan and assessment, a nerve wracking time - the stress levels are already starting to rise.  However, this time round we have a welcome distraction.  If you want to know what that is, then drop by next week! In the meantime, winter has arrived. On with the thermal layers, hats, scarves and gloves - stay warm and don't slip on the ice!

Sunday 21 November 2010

Happy days

The last few blogs seem to have been invaded by a rather sombre mood.  Things have been much better recently!  

Last weekend we had a grown-up sleepover with Paul and Veronique, old friends from my days at the City Council. That was preceded by a wonderful meal and good company on Saturday night.  Many thanks to you all!

This weekend, we have been hosts to Helen and Rob who came down from Leeds on Friday night, braving fog and horrendous traffic, and Anne and Colin visiting who drove up from Chichester at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. We have been putting the world to rights until the wee small hours over a good meal and several bottles.  We also managed to fit in a bit of culture, visits to long forgotten corners of Oxford and a walk along to Thames this morning for lunch at  riverside pub. Such good company and so considerate and helpful - in fact, perfect guests! 

Next week, Steve's court case moves forward again.  We have not one, but two, meetings in the pipeline..  One with the solicitor and the other with our expert witness, who wants to be shown around the site where we believe Steve was exposed to asbestos nearly 40 years ago.  This is not quite how we had envisaged spending our lunchtimes next week, but it's necessary for our team to be thoroughly prepared for the pre-trial hearing at the end of the month.  

There have been some interesting reports in the medical press this last week about a number of drugs which seem to be getting better results for mesothelioma than the standard treatment currently on offer. Finding a cure is still a long way off, but at long last, things seem to be moving in the right direction!

Lastly, a picture speaks a thousand words and I haven't been posting many recently.  Time for a gallery feature soon, I think!

Sunday 14 November 2010


All over the world on Wednesday and again today people have been remembering those who lost their lives in conflict.  Our hearts go out to those they left behind. 

We also remember those who survived the conflicts, only to have their lives taken prematurely as a result of exposure to asbestos; exposure which could have been avoided with the right precautions.  Steve's dad numbers amongst those victims.  Our hearts go out to those they leave behind, including the wives and children contaminated by the lethal dust as they washed dirty work clothes unaware of the risks they were taking, or hugged their fathers as they returned home from work, and in the process breathed in the fibres that were to come back to haunt them as they hugged their own children many years later.  

We look back to the possible causes of Steve's exposure in frustration, anger and in grief - natural emotions, in the circumstances - but probably heightened this last week by seeing so many poppies, not to mention the aftermath of going through the court papers.  Still that's over now, at least for the time being. 

Steve's next assessment is less than four weeks away - always a nail-biting time - so we are making the most of the here and now, including a wonderful meal yesterday evening with old friends Paul and Veronique, and a sleepover at their house so we could enjoy the wine and stay up till the small hours in good company without having to worry about the drive home!  

More get-togethers planned for next weekend and the weekend after and may be even in-between....isn't it great to be sociable?  

Sunday 7 November 2010

No escape

If you are a film buff (or even if you're not) the name Steve McQueen will probably conjure up memories of the actor making a bid for freedom by riding his motor bike over a barbed wire perimeter fence around a POW camp in the movie "The Great Escape."

What you may not know is that today is the 30th anniversary of Steve McQueen's death in 1980.  Of more significance for this blog, is the fact that he died as a result of mesothelioma after breathing in asbestos fibres when stripping out asbestos insulation from pipes in naval vessels as a mechanic in the US Marines, before his film career took off.  Mesothelioma is disease from which, even today, there is no escape in terms of a cure.

However, treatment has moved on a great deal in the last three decades.  I write today's blog in the hope that my Steve, my very own hero, will be able to take advantage of the progress in treatments which may at least offer long term stability, if not complete remission from this horrible disease......And, of course, that goes for all the other meso warriors out there - and their families and friends - who are fighting for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones as I write, as well as for those who will receive the devastating news of mesothelioma diagnosis at some point in the future, the seeds having been sown already without their knowledge.

A rather sombre thought for today - perhaps it's the effect of shorter days and darkness coming early......Anyway, we're back at home now after a short break visiting family to cheer ourselves up after the marathon of going through the court case documents, and it's still daylight!  Time to get on, unpack, and sort ourselves out ready for tomorrow, when "normal" life resumes with my return to work. 

Friday 5 November 2010

a forest of paperwork

We collected a large box from the Royal Mail office last Saturday. Seeing it was from the solicitor, we put off opening it until Monday so that it didn't spoil the weekend or Halloween.  That would have been Steve's dad's birthday, had he not died in his late sixties as a result of mesothelioma. But we had to face up to dealing with it eventually.....

Inside the box were two witness statements from one of the defendants in Steve's damages case plus their related "exhibits", and two large lever arch files stuffed with 60+ documents from the "Disclosure List".  This box of delights was followed up by another bundle from the defendant's expert witness, with yet more exhibits, which arrived at the start of this week.  A lot of paperwork to go through, but go through it we did. 

It took much longer than expected to sort, read and digest the various documents, and for Steve to write his observations on what we had seen and convey these to the solicitor. The journey through this forest of paper work took us on a roller coaster of emotions, but we got through it eventually.  During this process, the sequence of events going back to December 1971 which eventually lead to Steve's mesothelioma diagnosis last June came into much sharper focus than ever before - memories were triggered and photos rediscovered, which was helpful. However, it also meant that the old wounds were reopened and salt rubbed in. Not surprisingly, we were feeling a bit tired and emotional by the end of it all.

Spending so much time on the court case was not what we thought we would be doing this week, our last at home together before I resume work on Monday after a very long break. But hey, it's done. We've put the lid on the box and have taken ourselves off to wind down from the experience. It's so tempting to put the lot on a bonfire tonight and enjoy the warm glow!  

Whatever you are doing tonight (or tomorrow) to celebrate Fireworks night, have fun, but please take care....