There is a serious problem of asbestos in schools. Most schools built between 1945 and the early 1980s contain asbestos.

As the asbestos and the building fabric around it ages and becomes worn the condition of the asbestos can deteriorate.

Many such schools contain white asbestos (chrysotile), brown asbestos (amosite) and some contain blue asbestos (crocidolite).

All types of asbestos can cause the asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma.

Amosite and crocidolite are respectively 100 and 500 times more likely to cause mesothelioma than chrysotile.

In the case of Dianne Willmore v Knowsley MBC, Dr Rudd gave evidence that:

“Mesothelioma can occur after low level exposure and there is no known threshold dose below which there is no risk”.

School teachers deaths from mesothelioma have increased year on year, from 15 in the period 1980-1985 to 64 between 2001- 2005, with a total of 178 school teachers dying of mesothelioma since 1980.

Dianne Willmore v Knowsley MBC

In July 2009 Liverpool High Court found Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council liable for damages for negligent exposure of Dianne Willmore to asbestos fibres while she was a pupil at her secondary school in Huyton, She joined the school in 1972 at the age of 11 and left in 1979. Dianne Willmore was diagnosed in March 2007 as suffering from mesothelioma.

The school was opened in 1972 when asbestos was widely used with the result that asbestos materials were prevalent throughout the building.

The Judge, The Hon Justice Nicol, accepted that the exposure had occurred and that to be causative it had to be more than minimal he summarised his views as follows:

“I have looked at the evidence regarding each of those situations. I could not find that any of them created a risk which was only de minimis. However, even if I am wrong about that, I must consider their collective effect. I am clear that when viewed together the risk was not minimal and that they materially increased the risk to the Claimant that she would develop mesothelioma much later in her life.”

On 22 September 09 Lord Justice Moses recognised the importance of the case by granting Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council permission to appeal.

The Court of Appeal heard the case on 14th October 2009. The appeal failed.

Dianne Willmore died the day after the Judgement was handed down.

The Defendant was again given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and the case was heard in November 2010. The decision is likely to be handed down next year.

The Defendant is hopeful that the Lords will overturn the decisions of the lower courts and bring about a change in the law.

Currently a claimant must prove that the defendant has exposed her to a level of asbestos fibres which would result in a material increase in the risk of developing mesothelioma.

The Defendant seeks to change the law such that the claimant must prove that the risk has been at least doubled when compared the background risk of that person contracting mesothelioma.

Such a decision would mean that the number of mesothelioma victims able to claim for low dose exposure would be fair fewer in the coming decades. Leaving teachers, care takers, pupils and office staff with no recourse to the justice they deserve.

The dangers of asbestos have been well known to Government and to employers for very many years.

Successive Governments have maintained the position that asbestos is not dangerous if it is properly managed and in good condition. The Asbestos in Schools Campaign calls for an investigation into Asbestos in Schools to include an assessment of the type and condition and management of all asbestos in schools.