Supreme Court Asbestos Judgement. Profound Implications for Schools
9th March 2011. Press Release.
Today 9th March 2011 the Supreme Court has upheld the earlier judgement that Dianne Willmore had
been negligently exposed to asbestos by Knowsley Metropolitan Borough council when she was a pupil at school.
Dianne died aged 49 of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma on 15th October 2009, the day after she heard that the Appeal Court had upheld the High Court judgement.
This case has profound implications as it is the first case of a pupil being exposed to asbestos at school that has successfully been fought through the courts of the land.
The personal agonies that Dianne suffered and her family are suffering are unquantifiable, but have been made considerably worse by the callous, heartless actions of the Council who negligently caused her mesothelioma and then dragged Dianne through the courts when they knew that she was dying.
Sadly Dianne’s exposure to asbestos at school and resultant death is not unique. More than 75% of schools in the country contain asbestos, with most containing the more dangerous types. A Medical Research Council report stated: “It is not unreasonable to assume, therefore, that the entire school population has been exposed to asbestos in school buildings.” It assessed lifetime asbestos exposures, including the asbestos exposure to children and concluded “Exposure to asbestos in school may therefore constitute a significant part of total exposure.” (1)
In the last ten years more than 140 school teachers died of mesothelioma, and teaching assistants, caretakers, cleaners, school secretaries and nursery nurses died as well. If they are being exposed to asbestos and dying, then so are the children in their classes, however, because of the long latency there are no records of the number of children who have subsequently died.
Gordon Brown was asked to commission an assessment of the asbestos risks to children, but it never happened. In 2009 the Chief Executive of the British Safety Council stated: “It is unacceptable that the UK, in 2009, has not yet not comprehensively assessed the risks that teachers and pupils in each and every school face.....” (2)
When in Opposition Nick Gibb MP was asked if he would assess the scale of the problem and the risks, to which he replied “One cannot shut one’s eyes to the problem....One cannot sweep it under the carpet.” (3)
Nick Gibb is now the Minister of State for Schools. In December 2010 he was asked if he would assess the asbestos risks to teachers, support staff and children, and he replied “The Department has no plans to commission an assessment of the risks from asbestos in schools.” (4)
On 28th February 2011 the Department for Education Asbestos Steering Group (5) unanimously recommended that the Government commissions an assessment of the asbestos risks to children. For the sake of the children in our schools one must hope that the assessment is now carried out.
For Dianne and many others the assessment will be too late.
9th March 2011
tel: 01409 241496
mob: 0791 0947362
Annette Brooke MP
Chair of the Asbestos in Schools group
(The AiS is a group of organisations and individuals who campaign to make schools safe from the dangers of asbestos)
Parliamentary Researcher to Annette Brooke MP
MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole
Tel: 020 7219 8193 | Fax: 020 7219 1898
Dianne Willmore’s solicitor,
Tel: 01422 345535
Mob: 07810 502084
Notes for Editors:
In October 2010 the Supreme Court considered two appeals concerning mesothelioma deaths from low level asbestos exposure. Dianne Willmore was one and the other one was Enid Costello (Sienkiewicz)
The Health and Safety Executive has recently released the latest statistics for mesothelioma deaths in the education sector. For analysis see: http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/pdfnewslinks/
For background information on asbestos in schools see: www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk
(1) Fibrous Materials in the Environment Institute for Environment and Health. P72 and p75 . 1997
(2) British Safety Council press release Government failing to tackle asbestos in schools. 3 Jul 2009 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8133497.stm
(3) Meeting Nick Gibb MP Shadow Schools Minister/ Asbestos in Schools group 27th January 2010. Meeting Nick Gibb MP/ Lees 7 Jul 2009
(4) Parliamentary question Nick Gibb MP Minister of State for Schools/ John Cryer MP 8 Dec 2010 27283 http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/pdfnewslinks/PQs%20John%20Cryer%20%20Nick%20Gibb%20COMMENT%20%208%20Dec%2010.pdf
(5) The DfE asbestos steering group reports to Lord Hill the Under Secretary of State for Schools. The committee was established in April 2010 to improve the asbestos management in schools.