British Campaign for Asbestos Justice: Update 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The summer sunshine augured well as campaigners mobilized for Action Mesothelioma Day 2013 (AMD 2013), an event marked by asbestos victims' groups, cancer charities and municipal authorities throughout the country. Traditionally the first Friday in July, this year AMD fell on July 5. Through good luck and advanced planning, the annual seminar of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group took place on July 3; the timing of these events enabled international speakers to participate in activities on both days. While the substance of the presentations made in Parliament on July 3 will be considered in some detail in the summer issue of the British Asbestos Newsletter,1 this article aims to showcase some of the images, faces and initiatives which characterized the seminar and AMD 2013.

Early on July 3, the international speakers for the Parliamentary seminar rendezvoused outside the House of Commons to embark on a tour of the Palace of Westminster with Siobhan Foster, the assistant to Jim Sheridan, MP the Chair of the Asbestos Sub-Group.


From left: Dr. Dan Sterman, Mary Hesdorffer, Rolf Gehring, Laurie Kazan-Allen and Siobhan Foster.

Upon completion of the tour, the guests were met by MP Jim Sheridan who escorted them to the Parliamentary terrace café where they learned more about the work of the Asbestos Sub-Group as they enjoyed the view of the Thames River traffic.


Dr. Dan Sterman, Jim Sheridan MP, Mary Hesdorffer, Rolf Gehring and Laurie Kazan-Allen.

The 2013 asbestos seminar began promptly at 2 p.m. Over the next three hours, international and British speakers gave presentations intended to inform and update the British debate on asbestos and asbestos-related issues. A pioneering asbestos initiative by the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers, which resulted in a landslide vote for asbestos action by the European Parliament in March 2013, was the subject of the talk entitled Europe 2023 – Asbestos Free by Rolf Gehring.2


Rolf Gehring.

Americans Mary Hesdorffer and Dr. Daniel Sterman, respectively from the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center examined North American resources and research into the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. Their presentations Mobilizing for a Mesothelioma Cure3 and Advances in Treatment of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma – A Reason for Hope4 were of particular interest to seminar delegates whose lives had been impacted by mesothelioma.


From left: Dr. Dan Sterman, answering a question, and Mary Hesdorffer.

Keeping to the traditional balance of the agenda, the next three speakers focused on UK-related developments. Unfortunately the death of mesothelioma sufferer Debbie Brewer, who was one of the scheduled speakers, occurred a few days before the seminar. Fellow sufferer Mavis Nye and Siobhan Brewer, Debbie's daughter, stepped in as last minute replacements to ensure that issues close to the heart of mesothelioma patients were voiced at this high-profile event.5 The final speaker, Laurie Kazan-Allen (me) highlighted the participation of British asbestos activists in the ongoing asbestos war being fought around the world paying particular attention to what occurred at the May 2013 meeting of the Rotterdam Convention. During my talk: The Asbestos War6 two new initiatives were launched:

  • Two video compilations.7
  • A piece of digital art entitled: The Female Face of Britain's Asbestos Catastrophe by Colombian artist Guillermo Villamizar; this stunning image conceptualized the catastrophe caused by asbestos in Britain over the last century.8


It has long been a tradition of the Asbestos Sub-Group to present a framed copy of the seminar agenda to speakers. As MPs had been called away by the division bell, Mavis Nye and Siobhan Brewer were asked to present these tokens of appreciation to Mary Hesdorffer, Dr. Sterman and Rolf Gehring. Laurie Kazan-Allen had the privilege of fulfilling this task for Mavis and Siobhan.


From left: Mavis Nye, Laurie Kazan-Allen and Siobhan Brewer.

July 4, American Independence Day, is one of the biggest holidays in the U.S. calendar. This year, Mary Hesdorffer spent the day in Birmingham with myself and a group of folks from the Asbestos Support West Midlands Group. Fortunately we found a small corner of Birmingham that had not forgotten to mark the day.


Mary Hesdorffer enjoying the 4th of July a la Birmingham style.

The AMD event organized the following day by Asbestos Support West Midlands at the Birmingham City Council House was blessed with wonderful weather. The formal segment of the program, expertly chaired by Jayne Lawson, featured presentations from myself and Mary under the heading of Asbestos – Present Dangers and Future Hopes. The title of my talk was Report from the Asbestos Frontline 2013 and included a round up of global campaigning developments over the last year. Mary focused her remarks on progress being made in the U.S. on the diagnosis and treatment of asbestos cancer.


Photograph: Alan Weaver.

One of the highlights of the morning was the singing by the Birmingham Clarion Singers of a song written especially for AMD 2013. It was, appropriately entitled Asbestos. Its last stanza said it all:

“Let's join our voices; shout loud and clear
We'll make our call to ban asbestos
From every which and where
Stop its production; see it's no more mined
Just leave the stone unprocessed for the rest of time.”

The penultimate segment of the day's events was a dove release in Chamberlain Square which was overseen by the new Lord Mayor of Birmingham Councillor, Mike Leddy.


Photograph: Alan Weaver.

After the avian display, cups of tea and coffee were dispensed at the Council House where speakers and guests were able to mingle in an informal setting. Commenting on the day, Mary Hesdorffer said:

“It was great to have a chance to meet the folks at the Birmingham group on Action Mesothelioma Day. Over tea and cookies, I had the opportunity to learn more about the situation faced by sufferers and their families in the West Midlands. Some of the stories were horrendous, some were more positive but all of them underlined the importance of the work done by the folks at the Asbestos Support West Midlands Group.”

An appeal held by Asbestos Support West Midlands which coincided with AMD 2013 raised 4,500, all of which has been donated to mesothelioma research.

Around the country, the sunshine was shared equally, unlike 2012 when it was torrential downpours that characterized most AMD activities. British charities, which between them have raised more than 2 million for research into mesothelioma, held AMD events in Leeds and Gateshead. The June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund's “Day of Remembrance and Hope” at the Plaza Hotel provided the opportunity for mesothelioma patients, carers and campaigners to learn about mesothelioma from speakers with first-hand experience of the disease and its treatment.9


Kimberley Stubbs (JHMRF Chair & Trustee), Russell Hancock (Trustee), Dr Kate Hill (Trustee), Dr Graham Abbott (GP), Vanessa Bridge (Trustee), Simon Bolton (Mesothelioma Support Yorkshire Group), Dr Zsuzanna Tabi (Mesothelioma Researcher), Nick McLeod (Mesothelioma Researcher) Adrian Budgen (Trustee)

Supporters of the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund (MKMRF)10 gathered at the Gateshead Civic Centre where a commemorative tree was officially launched by Mayor Jack Graham. The slogan for this initiative was “Make your mark for mesothelioma,” the imprint of fingerprints on the tree symbolizing commitment to spread the word about the asbestos hazard. The MKMRF tree will remain on display at the Civic Centre throughout July. Following the launch, a mesothelioma conference, chaired by Dr. Mark Weatherhead, took place.

In Manchester and Liverpool, two of the areas worst affected by mesothelioma, AMD 2013 was marked with dove releases, remembrance services, public meetings, musical recitals and civic receptions.


Supporters of the Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Group awaiting the dove release in Lincoln Square.

The keynote speaker at the Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group AMD 2013 meeting at the Town Hall was Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the Unite Trade Union.


Liverpool children with civic officials at start of AMD 2013.

As in previous years, the event at Liverpool Town Hall was jointly organized by Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support11 and Cheshire Asbestos Victims Support.12 As well as raising research funds and public awareness of mesothelioma, educational talks were given by U.S. medical specialist Dr. Dan Sterman, Dr. Chris Warburton and Nurse Kay Kennedy at an information session. A number of victims followed up on comments made by Dr. Sterman about mesothelioma research in Pennsylvania. At the end of the discussions, Merseyside's John Flanagan thanked the speakers and delegates for their participation and urged one and all to support the victims' campaign to improve the Mesothelioma Bill currently going through Parliament.

The well-attended AMD 2013 activities in Leicester were organized by Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team (DAST) and Mesothelioma UK and featured the participation of municipal officials, religious leaders, medical experts and asbestos victims. The message transmitted was one of hope for all those who have been affected by this deadly disease.


Joanne Gordon from DAST reading a poem.

Through music, poetry, art and prayer those who gathered together at Leicester Cathedral reflected on the price paid by ordinary men and women for the country's use of asbestos. The release of white doves and the Trees of Reflection symbolized hope for the future.


Mrs. Irene Hughes and Dr. Wendy Hickling, Deputy Lieutenant of Leicestershire.

Elsewhere AMD 2013 events were also blessed by sunshine and blue skies which showcased the spectacle of dove and balloon releases, popular features of the day. Glowing reports have been received from events held in: Sheffield by the South Yorkshire Asbestos Victim Support Group, Reading by the Berkshire Asbestos Support Group, Plymouth by the South West Mesothelioma Group and the village of Hemingford Abbots by the Papworth Mesothelioma Support Group. Against this backdrop of grassroots mobilization, the Mesothelioma Bill was making its way through Parliament. Calls were made on July 5 by campaigners up and down the country for citizens to take action on the injustice contained within the Bill's provisions.13 The message written on postcards addressed to Lord Freud, which were provided on AMD 2013 for people to sign, said:

“The 2013 Mesothelioma Bill in its current form is unfair and punitive. It imposes arbitrary deadlines on already-vulnerable people, depriving them of vital compensation. We call on you to amend the bill to ensure that everyone who is affected by asbestos exposure get 100% of the compensation owed to them.”

Unfortunately, Parliament adjourned for the Summer recess without this situation being resolved.

July 22, 2013


1 Kazan-Allen L. Annual Parliamentary Asbestos Seminar. British Asbestos Newsletter, Issue 87, 2012.

2 Rolf Gehring's presentation: Europe 2023 – Asbestos Free.
Kazan-Allen L. How Does Change Happen? April 9, 2013.

3 Mary Hesdorffer's presentation: Mobilizing for a Mesothelioma Cure.

4 Dr. Sterman's presentation: Advances in Treatment of Malignant pleural Mesothelioma – A Reason for Hope.

5 Texts of: Speech by Mavis Nye and Speech by Siobhan Brewer.

6 Laurie Kazan Allen's presentation: The Asbestos War.

7 Footnote void (linked material no longer available).

8 Kazan-Allen L. Interpretation of “The Female Face of Britain's Asbestos Catastrophe” Interview with Artist Guillermo Villamizar. July 3, 2013.

9 The June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund:

10 Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund:

11 Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support:

12 Cheshire Asbestos Victims Support:

13 Petition on the Mesothelioma Bill.



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