Dianne Willmore and her case - 15 October 2009 John Pickering and Partners
It is with great sorrow that we tell you that Dianne Willmore died this morning. Yesterday the Court of Appeal upheld Liverpool High Court’s verdict that she was negligently exposed to asbestos when she was a child at school in Knowsley. Dianne was only 49.
Dianne was exposed to asbestos fibres from the age of 11 at Bowring Comprehensive in Knowsley in the 1970’s. The court acknowledged that the council and school authorities knew about the dangers of asbestos and should have taken measures to prevent damage to asbestos, contamination of the school and exposure of the occupants. The court heard of a number of occasions when the exposures happened: Asbestos insulation ceiling tiles had been taken down and stacked in a busy corridor whilst electricians worked on the cables in the ceiling void. Bullies took children’s satchels and pencil boxes and hid them above the ceiling tiles. Vandalism had occurred in the girls toilets where asbestos ceiling tiles were stacked in the girls loos. The original case in July found Knowsley Council had a duty of care for the staff and children, and they failed in that duty. However Knowsley Council appealed against the ruling. Their appeal was dismissed yesterday by the Appeal Court Judges who upheld the original ruling.
Dianne was diagnosed more than two years ago and because her condition was seriously deteriorating the court dealt with her case speedily. Yesterday Lord Justice Ward told the court that they would not delay their ruling because they were aware that Dianne had not long to live. The Court showed great compassion.
Yesterday Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council’s lawyers indicated that they wished to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Immediately after the Judges’ decision yesterday Dianne’s solicitor Ruth Davies phoned to tell her the good news. She was so pleased that she knew that her beloved family would be looked after. Dianne died with that knowledge.
Dianne was awarded £240,000 in damages for her negligent exposure, but she wasn’t able to spend it because in the event of the appeal being successful the money would have to be paid back.
Every year, there are more than 2000 cases of mesothelioma in the UK, the exposure in the UK being comparatively high because we imported so much brown asbestos. The vast majority of those mesotheliomas are caused by exposure to asbestos dust in the workplace. However there are increasing numbers of people like Dianne who develop mesothelioma from slight exposure. Her case succeeded because there was evidence of exposure.
John Pickering and Partners LLP
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Dianne Willmore, the wider implications in schools - Michael Lees 15 October 2009
It is very sad that Dianne Willmore has died. It is always tragic when a person dies of mesothelioma but it is even more so when they are so young.
This case has profound implications. In my knowledge this is the first time in this country that a person exposed to asbestos at school as a child has successfully fought a case through the courts and been awarded compensation from the people who negligently exposed her.
Dianne had not stripped asbestos lagging from a power station, neither was she a carpenter, a plumber or electrician. She was a child at school. She was exposed to asbestos because the very people who had a duty of care for her safety, failed in that duty. The local authority and the school had been warned of the dangers of low level exposure to asbestos and the particular risk to children, however they chose to ignore those warnings and allowed asbestos to be damaged, contamination of the school to take place and the occupants to be exposed. Dianne’s exposures happened thirty years ago but regrettably the asbestos remains in the majority of schools throughout the country and the boisterous behaviour, the maintenance work and the failures in asbestos management that led to her exposure are still all too common in thousands of schools. Freedom of Information requests have shown that more than 80% of schools in the country contain asbestos.
Increasingly people are developing mesothelioma from relatively low levels of exposure. Dianne’s case succeeded because there was evidence of exposure, however the incidence amongst people with mesothelioma who are not aware of how or where their asbestos exposure occurred is four times greater in Britain than elsewhere in the world. Such exposures are typical of those experienced by many teachers, support staff and pupils in schools. 103 school teachers, lecturers, classroom assistants, and nursery nurses died of mesothelioma between 2000 and 2005. But they are the tip of the iceberg, for every teacher there are 20-30 children and inevitably they are exposed to asbestos at the same time. But there are no statistics that show how many children have been exposed to asbestos at school and have subsequently died, because the very long latency for mesothelioma means that their deaths are recorded under whatever occupation they had at the time and not as exposure to asbestos at school as a child.
The verdict and Dianne’s death are a testament to the fact that children are exposed to asbestos in our schools and very sadly die. So long as the asbestos remains there will always be the potential for damage to occur and dangerous fibres to be released. The only safe long term policy is the complete removal of all asbestos from schools. Only then will our children be safe.
15th October 2009
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