Supreme court ruling on school “hidden killer”

The UK Supreme Court has upheld an historic judgement in which a former pupil took legal action for being exposed to asbestos while at school.

Dianne Willmore died aged 49 of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma on October 15, 2009, the day after she heard that the Appeal Court had upheld a High Court judgement on her case.

The Supreme Court today agreed that Ms Willmore had been negligently exposed to asbestos by Knowsley Metropolitan Borough council when she was at school.

According to the Asbestos in Schools campaign “more than 75 per cent of schools in the country [UK] contain asbestos, with most containing the more dangerous types”.

In February 2011 the Department for Education Asbestos Steering Group, which was established last year, unanimously recommended that the Government commissions an assessment of the asbestos risks to children.

Welsh concerns about asbestos in schools were highlighted in April 2009 when occupational hygienist Robin Howie addressed a conference hosted by Nick Ramsey AM at the National Assembly for Wales.

Mr Howie claimed a hidden “horror story” was unfolding in UK schools with rates of mesothelioma “a factor of ten higher” in male teachers than in other people who do not work with asbestos. He said rates of mesothelioma in female teachers were “higher to a factor of two-and-a-half”. He added: “I think the teaching statistics are the tip of the iceberg. For every teacher exposed, then we have 20-30 children.”

Mr Howie repeated these concerns in an edition of the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week.

In the same programme Tim Cox, of the NASUWT, said the dangers of asbestos was “one of the most important issues we’ve ever had to deal with”.

He stated. “We are talking about the long-term health of the population of Wales. We are talking about the teachers and support staff in schools at the moment but we are also talking about the children, the children of Wales, over the next 10 to 20 years, who could be affected by this terrible, terrible disease.”

Mr Cox demanded the removal of all asbestos from school buildings.

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