Family Fight to Raise Awareness of Asbestos in Schools Following Death of Buckinghamshire Teacher
Call to action comes after family wins legal battle against council
- Family win battle for justice after mum Susan died of mesothelioma in 2016
- Simpson Millar secures settlement in full just eight weeks before High Court hearing
- Daughter Lucie says family will continue fight to raise awareness of asbestos in Schools and to help protect future generations of children and teachers.
The family of Mrs Susan Stephens who lost her life to mesothelioma at the age of 68, on June 26th, 2016, have today spoken of their heartache in a bid to raise awareness of the danger of asbestos in schools.
The move comes six months after they won their legal battle against Buckinghamshire County Council just weeks before the case was due to be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice later this summer.
Despite starting the case soon after her diagnosis, Susan sadly passed away before its conclusion which resulted in a full out of Court settlement in December 2020.
Sue Stephens was a dedicated and highly regarded Primary School Teacher in Buckinghamshire, having taught in primary schools for almost 30 years. Her last school was Burford Primary school in Marlow, Bucks where she worked between 1995 up until her retirement in 2006.
However, despite a ban on asbestos in England’s schools which came into force more than 30 years the deadly fibres still plague 84% of the buildings.
A statistic which prompted Sue’s family to set up an online campaign calling for the government to commit to removing asbestos from all schools by 2030 to protect other teachers and pupils.
The online petition has received over 123,000 signatures and can be found on https://bit.ly/3pryf4X. Sue’s family will be delivering the petition to the Department for Education soon.
Lucie, Sue’s daughter said; “My dear mum’s diagnosis with mesothelioma was a big shock for everyone. She had worked hard her entire life, giving hundreds of children a great start in school. We had no idea that teachers and pupils were so often at risk of asbestos in schools.
“Mum was furious that she wasn’t made aware of the issue and wasn’t protected. She worried how many of her colleagues and students would also have been exposed over the years.
“She started the legal case because she wanted her employers to be held to account. Sadly she died long before they accepted responsibility. We have all lost so much and were not ever prepared to give up on the legal case for mum, despite the case being vigorously contested by the Local Authority throughout. Through our campaigning work we have met many others that have also been affected by asbestos in schools. I hope our legal victory will push local authorities to take action on asbestos in schools.’
“We instructed Helen Grady of Simpson Millar, who fought our corner tirelessly throughout. Helen visited mum on many occasions and each time they met Mum was able to tell Helen more about her life and work around the school and the case ended up as so much more than the pinning work into asbestos ceiling tiles.
“Helen spoke to lots of mum’s former teacher colleagues and went through the school’s asbestos surveys with them. Burford Primary school contained lots of asbestos and we discovered details of potential exposures in the boiler house, an asbestos kiln in the art room and a large hole in the asbestos ceiling in the cloakroom beneath which mum stood supervising the young children.
“In addition, asbestos lagged pipework beneath all of the floors throughout the school, asbestos ceilings in the boiler house and possibly asbestos lagged old boilers and pipework, where the teachers used to go to dry out the artwork.
“Mum and all of the witnesses clearly remembered extensive boiler house refurbishments not long after mum started at the school, where old boilers were ripped out. It was strongly suspected that these old boilers contained asbestos lagging, along with asbestos lagged pipework.
“However, there were no documents relating to the boiler house refurbishments in the disclosed asbestos surveys and so the caretaker’s memory and recollection of events was invaluable.”
Helen Grady, an industrial disease expert at Simpson Millar, who specialises in cases of mesothelioma resulting from low level exposure to asbestos, and who represented the family in their legal battle against the council, said; “This was such a tragic case and Sue’s premature death was a huge loss for the family and during the time of the case.
“I lost two family members to this insidious disease and so totally understand the devastating effects on the family and deep feelings of injustice and unfairness as this disease nearly always strikes when people are just about the start enjoying the last phase of life and when they are still fit and healthy.
“We know of the menaces of low-level asbestos exposures, and we all need to be extremely careful of our surroundings in our homes and inside these old buildings and I do hope that the family’s online petition will have the desired results. It is essential that asbestos is removed from all schools by 2030.
“Mesothelioma is always a terminal diagnosis, but it is a preventable disease. Without asbestos exposure there is no mesothelioma. We really do need to focus on the prevention, hence the importance of Lucie’s work.
“There is so much asbestos around as the UK were major importers of this highly carcinogenic material and by the mid-80s had imported over 7 million tons of it from asbestos mines around the world. It is of course devastating that in some countries this is still being mined and used.”
Offering advice to other families facing a similar diagnosis, Helen added: “My thoughts on the case are to never give up when faced with strong denials of liability.
“Keep searching for more evidence and really analyse asbestos surveys and other documents provided by potential Defendants as you can be surprised at the number of important documents that go astray over the years and not even retained in the first instance.
“The many hours I spent travelling around the country to see Sue’s former schoolteachers and the two caretakers, where asbestos surveys and engineering reports were spread out over dining room tables, was invaluable and ultimately paid off.”
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