Witness Appeal: Use of Asbestos in Cornwall Schools / Dockyard

29 June 2020

The devastated widow of a former painter and decorator who died from an asbestos related cancer has joined with legal experts to appeal for witnesses to come forward with information to help determine how he came to be exposed to the deadly substance.

Neal Rutty from Redruth, Cornwall, was 66 when he died of mesothelioma in August 2017, just 15 months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma – a cancer of the lining of the lungs.

An active father of three with one granddaughter, until he started to suffer from back pains and respiratory problems, he had been a highly regarded painter and decorator in the local area for many years. 

Following the recession, his work was just starting to pick up again and he was working with his son, Nick, when he noticed his first symptoms of mesothelioma.

In the 1970s and 1980s he had worked primarily at schools across the region on behalf of Cornwall County Council, along with outside painting of Local Authority housing in Cornwall.  He worked at the Devonport Dockyard Naval Base in Plymouth between 1983 and 1986 where he was responsible for painting and decorating the boiler rooms and the changing rooms.

It is during this time that his family think he may have been exposed to asbestos.

His widow Stephanie is now appealing for anyone who worked at the schools in Cornwall or the docks at Devonport during this time and who may have information to come forward.  

Her Industrial Disease Solicitor Helen Grady from Simpson Millar said, “If you worked in any schools in Cornwall during this era, either as a teacher, or a contractor, or if you worked at the Dockyards in the 80s and came across asbestos, please do get in touch as you may be able to provide vital information.”

Figures released in 2019 further to a freedom of information request revealed that asbestos is present in nearly half of Local Authority run primary schools. A total of 5,196 out of 11,219.

Another report from the DfE found that 1 in 5 schools were ‘not in line’ with guidance on managing asbestos.

Helen Grady added, “The family have so many questions about how and when Neal was exposed to asbestos, and whether more could have been done to protect him.

“While the dangers of asbestos have been known for many decades there are still, sadly, many people dying prematurely as a result of related illnesses such as mesothelioma, because they were not made aware of its presence and provided with protective equipment.

“We’re now appealing for anyone who might have information about the presence of asbestos in any school across Cornwall or at Devonport Dockyard to get in touch.”

If you have any information please contact Helen Grady at Simpson Millar on 0345 357 9600 or use the contact form below.

Stephanie Rutty said, “This has been the toughest time for me and my children. Our grand daughter, Emily, was a pupil at one of the schools Neal worked in during the 80s and she remembered seeing asbestos warning stickers during refurbishment of the science block at her school in Cornwall in 2018. 

“Of course, Neal was not given any such warnings, even though the dangers were known.  Neal was still so young when he died, still working, and had so much to look forward to.  To watch his health deteriorate so rapidly was heart-breaking.

“It’s so sad to think that his death could have been prevented if he had been made aware of the asbestos and provided with protective equipment.”

Neal sadly died at the Mount Edgecombe Hospice on 16 August 2017, aged 67, where he spent his final 8 days.

Stephanie said, “Neal’s care, and the care and compassion that they showed to me at the hospice was truly outstanding and we’re grateful to the staff for everything they did during this difficult time.”

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