BILL Cook can finally look forward to the compensation he deserves after 42 years working in North-East pits.

The desperately ill 86-year-old is barely able to walk after the coal dust he inhaled left him crippled with emphysema. Simply getting out of bed every morning represents a monumental effort for a man with only 15 per cent lung capacity.

Despite a High Court decision to grant ailing miners compensation nearly two years ago, Mr Cook, who lives in Houghton-le-Spring, Wearside, is still waiting.

Until today, he even faced a fresh battery of medical tests before the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) would accept he had a strong case for compensation.

Now the waiting is almost over.

Mr Cook can reasonably expect to be among the 16,000 former pitmen who should benefit from the Government's new "fast track" system, announced by Energy Minister Helen Liddell.

The scheme should put money in his pocket by Christmas.

Last night, Mr Cook's son, Gerry, hailed the announcement as: "A major step forward for every miner."

Only last month he wrote an anguished letter to The Northern Echo which spoke of his anger at DTI inaction and urged the Government to act.

Paying tribute to The Northern Echo's Justice For The Miners campaign, he said last night: "It seems as though ministers have really listened to what we had to say and acted as quickly as they could.

"I think it's very good news indeed."

Gerry, who lives in Sedgefield, County Durham, hopes his father's compensation will help pay for a short holiday. His mother, Ellen, nurses his father 24 hours a day.

He said: "My dad would be the first to say that she really deserves a break. We're not thinking about the holiday of a lifetime, just three or four days in Whitby or Scarborough. It would do her the world of good to relax for a few days, and hopefully we might be able to get my dad away too."

Announcing the changes last night, Mrs Liddell hailed the changes as "common sense ideas", saying: "We have listened and we have acted to offer a package which should start delivering next month.

"It shows our unflinching determination to bring some comfort to our men and their families who have suffered too long."

For Bill and Ellen Cook, and thousands like them, that comfort cannot come soon enough