1. Supreme Court (26 - 28 Oct 2010)
A year ago the Court of Appeal upheld Liverpool High Court’s verdict that 49 year old Dianne Willmore was negligently exposed to asbestos when she was a child at school in Knowsley.
Dianne Wilmore died of mesothelioma just hours after hearing the Appeal Court’s judgement. The Courts, knowing of her imminent death, behaved with consideration and compassion. In contrast Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, knowing she was both conscious and close to death, chose that moment to announce that they would take her family to the Supreme Court.
The case was heard in the Supreme Court this week. Ruth Davies, Solicitor for Dianne Willmore's husband Barre says: " The defendants are trying to change the law that has been working perfectly well for many years so that fewer people who are dying can get properly compensated."
The judgement will have profound implications for the increasing numbers of people who are suffering from mesothelioma caused by low level asbestos exposures - the type of exposures which typically occur in schools. The judgement is expected from the Supreme Court in the next 3 months
2. See your local authorities response to HSE questionnaire
The HSE flawed questionnaire to local authorities about compliance with asbestos guidance for system built schools and the "spin" placed on the results was described in the last newsletter. The detailed responses from each local authority can be seen at this HSE link.
Critical analysis of your authority's response could show whether it is concealing embarrassing and potentially dangerous situations. A closer look at one authority's response is at this link. This authority was not inspected by the HSE as its response to the questionnaire was taken as proof by them that it was complying with the guidance. Whereas on closer scrutiny it appears that has not been the case.
3. Minister Meeting (Referred to in the last newsletter)
Asbestos in Schools campaigners held a meeting with Lord Hill, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools. At the meeting the Minister agreed to the continuation of the steering group set up in the last Parliament to look at all aspects of risk, management and training for asbestos in schools.
The steering group, which has been on hold since the change in Government, will hold a meeting in the coming months.
Chair of the Asbestos in Schools group (AiS) Mid Dorset and North Poole MP, Annette Brooke said: “..... Lord Hill was receptive to our concerns, and the group were reassured that he would take account of any additional evidence supplied. He assured the group that the training of headteachers should be taken forward as a priority.”
The Minister had been briefed by the HSE on their positive conclusions from the questionnaire on compliance with asbestos guidance, however when asked if he had seen the headteacher’s report on senior health and safety management in schools, he replied that he had not, and neither was he aware of the consultation that HSE had undertaken into compliance with the duty to manage asbestos. Neither reports have been published, and both are understood to be critical of the standards of asbestos management, and therefore it would appear that positive information is being used as the basis for Government policies for schools whereas critical information is not.
The Minister was reminded that the Prime Minister had been asked in May 2009 if he would task the Government’s advisory committee on science, WATCH, to assess the risk to children from asbestos exposure. In response HSE informed the Minister that the committee would be making a statement on the risks to both adults and children following their meeting on 27th October. Despite the HSE assurances, no discussion on the increased risks to children took place and no statement has been forthcoming.
The Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, had been fully briefed when he was in Opposition on the problem of asbestos in schools, however two weeks before the meeting with the AiS he cancelled it and handed over the asbestos brief to Lord Hill. As a consequence on a number of occasions during the meeting Lord Hill was able to avoid committing himself as he stated that he was new to the job. That is inexcusable as the meeting should have been with the Minister who could have answered the questions, however awkward they might be.
4. Press Complaints Commission (PCC)
The columnist Mr Christopher Booker wrote an article in the Daily Mail about the risks of asbestos in schools being exaggerated. Michael Lees successfully complained to the PCC about the article.
The Editors’ Code states: Clause 1. Accuracy The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information..... )
The PCC published the following this week:
" Clauses Noted 1 . Lees vs Daily Mail. Michael Lees complained that the newspaper had published a number of inaccuracies in an article which claimed that the dangers posed by asbestos in schools have been "grossly exaggerated". The complainant considered that the article had misrepresented the risks of white asbestos products, the substance of an Advertising Standards Authority ruling against the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the findings of an HSE report on the risks to health from asbestos exposure, and the particular risks posed by the presence of the more harmful types of asbestos materials in many schools. In general, the complainant considered that the article had been dangerously misleading. The complainant also strongly objected to a reference to the death of his late wife.
Resolution: The complaint was resolved when the newspaper wrote a private apology to the complainant acknowledging their error and insensitivity in the reference to his wife's death. They also published this correction in the newspaper and in its online edition".
5. Increase in Mesothelioma Deaths
This week the HSE published the latest mesothelioma death statistics that show the numbers continue to climb year on year. They show that 2,249 people died of mesothelioma in 2008. The rapid rise in female deaths is of particular significance in relation to low level asbestos exposures, with the number of deaths more than doubling in just twelve years.
6. Alan Award. Hazards Silver Award
"Michael Lees was recognised for his dedicated and persistent campaigning work on asbestos in schools when he received both the prestigous Hazards Silver Campaign Award and the Alan Award... Michael, who has campaigned relentlessly on asbestos in schools since his wife Gina, a teacher, died from mesothelioma was applauded for his work which has galvanised the support of teachers unions and asbestos support groups, MPs and the Hazards Campaign organisations."
7. Recent incidents and press coverage
To read about press reports of further asbestos incidents in schools and national and local media coverage of asbestos issues click here. There is also comment on incidents where analysis of the incident and the official response might be useful.