Easington, in County Durham, is top of the league when it comes to compensation for former pitmen.

Government figures show that £82.7m has been paid to 11,813 ex-miners and their families in east Durham to compensate them for the suffering caused by industrial diseases.

Easington heads a table of 25 former coalfields areas that have had the lion's share of payouts since the scheme began in 1999.

It reflects the national importance of the Durham coalfield during the heyday of mining.

It also illustrates the terrible toll on underground workers, who developed respiratory problems from inhaling coal dust and sensory deprivation from using heavy drilling equipment.

Former miners and their families in England and Wales have received more than £2.3bn in compensation for respiratory disease and vibration white finger, Trade and Industry Minister Nigel Griffiths revealed yesterday.

Other North-East areas in the table were Wansbeck, in Northumberland, where 7,381 claims resulted in £46.7m of payouts, and Houghton and Washington East, where 5,320 claimants received a total of £36.6m in compensation.

Mr Griffiths said: "The Government is honouring the debt to former miners who sacrificed their health to power this country."

Plans to speed up respiratory disease claim handling for living miners should begin to take effect by the end of next month when a separate fast-track system to deal with claims gets under way.

It is expected that in the case of claims where there is no mention of respiratory disease on the death certificate, widows will receive a flat rate payment of £1,200 and families will get £1,000.

Living miners will retain the option of having claims assessed by a chest specialist.