8 December 2016
Coroner investigating the death of retired teacher Sue Stephens rules that she died following exposure to asbestos at school
Greater Devon coroner Dr Elizabeth Earland yesterday concluded that retired teacher Sue Stephens who died of mesothelioma, a cancer caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos, died from an industrial disease and that, on the balance of probability, she was exposed during her time as a teacher in schools in Buckinghamshire.
Nearly 90 per cent of schools contain asbestos and the Government believes in most cases it is best to leave it in place and seek to manage it. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) believes this policy does not work, is irresponsible, and is leading to countless children and school staff members, like Sue, being exposed on a regular basis. Even normal school behaviours, such as scraping chairs and slamming doors, are known to release asbestos fibres. Sue believed she was exposed to asbestos during construction work at schools she worked in and also while pinning children’s work to walls and was never made aware that any school she worked in contained asbestos.
Lucie Stephens, Sue’s daughter, said 'My mum, Sue Stephens, was a treasured wife, mother, grandmother and friend. No-one told Mum that the schools she taught in contained asbestos so she was unable to protect herself or her pupils from the dangers of exposure to lethal asbestos fibres. My family are devastated by Mum’s death but sadly we are not alone. In the last 30 years over 300 teachers have died from mesothelioma and support staff are similarly affected. We hope Mum’s legacy will be to put a stop to all of these preventable deaths. The Department for Education must finally agree to the removal of asbestos from all schools by 2028. I would urge all parents and teachers to ask if their school contains asbestos, where it is, how it's being managed and when it will be removed. Please sign and share our petition to get asbestos removed from all our schools.’
Chair of JUAC, John McClean said ‘How many more people have to die following asbestos exposure in schools before the Government accepts that its laissez-faire approach to asbestos management in schools just isn’t working? We need a commitment to a policy of phased removal; children and school staff deserve nothing less’.
John McClean - Chair
The Asbestos in Schools Group
The Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) is a campaigning organisation with an overall aim of making schools safe from the dangers of asbestos. AiS is non-party political and is chaired by Rachel Reeves MP.
John McClean, Secretariat
Right to Know Asbestos in Schools Wales
Cenric Clement Evans