South Yorkshire industrial workers take cancer fight to High Court

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More than 100 South Yorkshire industrial workers suffering from cancer and respiratory diseases are to take their legal fight to the High Court in October.

They are among 350 coke oven workers from around the country who say their illnesses are related to exposure to harmful dust and fumes decades ago, and are now making claims against British Steel and British Coal.

The progress of the claims is to be reviewed by the High Court in October, one year after formal legal action commenced.

Among those involved in the legal action is the family of Terry Jones, from Killamarsh, who died at the age of 54 of lung cancer in October 2013 after working for 12 years operating coke ovens, first at Brookhouse and then at Orgreave coking plant.

Law firms Irwin Mitchell and Hugh James are working jointly on two group litigation claims.

A landmark judgment against a Phurnacite plant in South Wales in the High Court in 2012 paved the way for legal action in other regions with areas particularly badly affected including Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Humberside, the North East, Corby in Northampton, and South Wales where coking and steel plants were particularly prominent.

The majority of workers were employed in a range of occupations at coke works between the 1940s and 1980s and suffered with various respiratory illnesses, including lung cancers, emphysema, COPD, chronic bronchitis and asthma as well as skin cancers. Many have now since died as a result of their conditions.

Lawyers allege the British Steel Corporation and British Coal Corporation and their subsidiaries failed to correctly assess the risks of working on coke ovens and failed to adequately protect workers from the significant dust and fumes generated.

David Johnston-Keay, a specialist workplace illness lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Hundreds of former coke oven workers are now suffering from terrible conditions simply because of the work they carried out on a day-to-day basis. Employees have a basic right to be able to go to work and return home safely at the end of the day.

“Over the past year we have been gathering evidence and the claims of people affected are progressing well. Although many details remain to be worked out, we are confident we will be able to establish that British Coal and British Steel were in breach of duty, and that the consequential exposure to dust and fumes was responsible for the development of illness in many cases.

“This would pave the way for fair settlements.”

Gareth Morgan, Partner at Hugh James, said: “We welcome news that a date has been set and hope our clients’ cases will be resolved quickly and amicably.”