Ukfield widow seeks asbestos risk register

Brian and Clair on their 25th wedding anniversary in Canada
Brian and Clair on their 25th wedding anniversary in Canada

An Uckfield widow whose husband died from asbestos-related cancer has called for a national ‘at risk’ register for schools where the substance is present.

Clair York’s husband Brian, 63, was exposed to asbestos during his 29-year career as a PE teacher at Imberhorne School, East Grinstead. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs, 13 years after leaving teaching.

Before he died on December 9, 2015, Brian instructed asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate how he was exposed to deadly fibres during his teaching years. In 2016 the firm secured an admission of liability from West Sussex County Council.

Asbestos was used in the building and insulation of public buildings such as schools and hospitals for decades due to fire retardant properties. It was a component in many products including cement, sealants, pipe and boiler insulation, corrugated roofing, ceiling and wall tiles and wall insulation. When asbestos dust or fibres are airborne and breathed in, it can cause serious diseases including mesothelioma - an aggressive and incurable form of lung cancer, other lung cancers and asbestosis - a serious scarring of the lungs.

According to a 2015 Government health and safety report almost all the 14,000 schools built between 1945 and 1975 contain the material.

Now Clair joins Irwin Mitchell to call for a risk register of all schools where asbestos is present in order to safely manage building maintenance and asbestos removal. The plea to Government comes on Action Mesothelioma Day (July 7).

She said: “This isn’t about scaremongering and no one says all teachers and children are in grave danger. But it is about taking a pragmatic approach to what we now know is a dangerous substance. Schools take a lot of battering over the years and buildings fall in to disrepair, as Brian’s had.”

Brian, who worked at Imberhorne from 1973-2002, recalled PE equipment stored in a cupboard containing asbestos-insulated pipework. The heated swimming pool was also insulated with asbestos. Witnesses also confirmed its use in storage heaters and roof tiles.

Natalia Rushworth-White, Irwin Mitchell’s expert asbestos-related disease lawyer said: “We have repeatedly called upon Government to introduce a full risk register to document the presence of asbestos in public buildings including schools, and for that the register to be maintained through a programme of regular and robust inspections.”

Irwin Mitchell is working towards a settlement for Clair who is working to raise awareess of the dangers of asbestos. The firm also claims £12,000 for Wt Wilfrid’s Hospice, Eastbourne to cover Brian’s care costs.