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John Sessions, a judge from Sussex, England, died in June from respiratory failure due to severe mesothelioma. Penelope Schofield, the county coroner for West Sussex, determined that the judge died from complications stemming from his extended fight with the disease. Dr. Schofield described the judge as “fabulous” and “well respected” as both a jurist and a local community leader.

Helen Leonard, a spokesperson for the coroner’s office, reportedly told local reporters that Judge Sessions had served in the Royal Navy in his youth. He served on the HMS Leopard as a supply officer during the 1960s, when asbestos was commonly used for insulation and fireproofing on many British naval vessels.

Exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma, and many British and American sailors and officers who served aboard ships during those years have contracted the disease. The men would inhale the loose asbestos fibers, which would pass through the lungs and become embedded into the pleural mesothelium. Over the years, the fibers would affect the tissue, causing the cells to become malignant and develop into tumors.

Shipbuilders, contractors and demolition workers were also affected by asbestos exposure. A recent report by the British occupational health agency stated that asbestos-related diseases are the number-one cause of workplace deaths in the country. The incidence rate of the disease is expected to rise for at least the next ten years, as new cases come to light and older workers develop symptoms.

Last year, Judge Sessions sought out medical advice due to respiratory problems. X-rays later determined that fluid had built up in his lungs. Biopsies and other tests helped doctors come up with a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Judge Sessions underwent surgery and chemotherapy to combat the tumors, but the treatments had “little effect”, according to the report from the coroner’s office.

At the inquest, Mrs. Averil Sessions said that her husband died at home. He was sixty-nine years old.

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