RELATIVES of a widow who died after being exposed to toxic asbestos dust from washing her husband's work overalls have been awarded £247,000 damages in a landmark Scottish legal ruling.

Babcock International Ltd has been ordered to pay compensation to the children, grandchildren and siblings of Adrienne Sweeney, who lost her battle with mesothelioma - an extremely aggressive form of lung cancer - in August 2015.

The mother-of-three, from Paisley, had never smoked but the Court of Session in Edinburgh heard that her late husband, William, used to return home from work with his overalls and underclothes "covered" in asbestos dust while employed as an engineer at the Babcock and Wilcox boiler factory in Renfrew from 1962 to 1971.

Prior to her death, aged 75, Mrs Sweeney told her solicitor that her husband would "greet me with a cuddle while he still had his work clothes on". She added that she had to wash his work clothes regularly because "they were always covered in dust and manky".

Judge Lady Carmichael said there was clear evidence from 1965 that people were at risk of developing mesothelioma through secondary exposure to asbestos but found that the company failed to take any precautions to protect relatives of its employees, such as having work clothes washed at the factory, until after 1971.

As a result, she ruled that Babcock International Ltd had "negligently exposed [Mrs Sweeney] to asbestos, and materially increased the risk that she would develop mesothelioma".

It is the first judgement of its kind in Scotland on behalf of someone killed by secondary exposure to asbestos from their spouse’s clothes. Previously such claims have been settled out of court.

The case was pursued after Mrs Sweeney's death by the couple's children - Kay Gibson, 54, from Paisley, Jan Sweeney, 52, from Moscow in Ayrshire, and William Sweeney, 50, from Beith in Ayrshire.

As their father had died, aged 71, in 2008, the family relied on eyewitness testimony from some of his former colleagues at the factory, one of whom also died before the hearing.

In a statement on behalf of her family, Ms Gibson said they had sought the justice their mother wanted before her "painful and unnecessary premature death".

Ms Gibson added: "Our loving mother like so many other women in Scotland in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s supported her family by caring for her children and washing her husband’s overalls when he returned from a hard day’s work for employers who used deadly asbestos.

"These women like our mother were unaware how unsafe it was to be handling the asbestos dust that came from these work clothes or of the contamination risk to their own and their families’ lungs.

"We her children await to see if we will suffer the same fate."

The family’s lawyer, Nicola Macara of Thompsons Solicitors, added: “It is very regrettable that Babcock International Limited made the family go through the full court process hoping that, with all those central to the case being dead, they would successfully defend the action.”

Scotland has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world.

Traditionally seen as a largely male disease affecting former workers in heavy industry and shipyards, an increasing number of women are being diagnosed.

Dr Peter Semple, a retired general physician who worked at Inverclyde Royal Hospital between 1979 and 2008 and gave evidence in the Sweeney case, told the court that 11 out of the 37 female mesothelioma cases he had encountered "had been exposed by way of cleaning her husband's overalls".

The Court of Session also heard that the dangers of secondary exposure to were first flagged up in a paper published in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine in 1965, which highlighted cases of women falling ill who had "washed her husband's dungarees or work clothes".

Lady Carmichael said it was probable Mrs Sweeney had "shook out and washed clothes visibly contaminated with dust, at least once a week, over a period of years".

She added: "I am satisfied that this exposure would have been known to the defenders, and that the quantities of dust produced by operations, particularly those involving the production and use of asbestos paste, should have alerted them to the risk that dust would be carried home on clothing."