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Retired Teacher Urges Former Colleagues For Help After Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Lawyers Helping Former Teacher In Battle For Justice


A retired teacher who spent 35 years teaching primary school children in Lancashire is appealing to her former colleagues for help in a legal battle for justice after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos.

Penelope Devaney, known as Penny by her colleagues, 64, who previously lived in and around the Preston area, received the diagnosis in July 2013, after consulting her GP when she began to suffer with shortness of breath and wheezing.

Penny is one of the growing number of school teachers who are being diagnosed with this dreadful disease. In 2012 there were 22 school teachers’ deaths from mesothelioma. The number dying has increased from three-a-year in 1980 and 16 in 2011. A total of 291 school teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980, with 177 deaths since just 2001.

The mother-of-two and grandmother-of-four has now instructed expert asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office to help investigate when and where she was exposed to asbestos during her teaching career. She is hoping to seek justice from her former employers, Lancashire County Council, for failing to prevent her exposure to the hazardous substance.

Mrs Devaney, who moved to Lymm with her husband James after her diagnosis, believes she was exposed to asbestos while working at a number of schools around Lancashire between 1978 and 2004

During her time working for Lancashire County Council, Mrs Devaney recalls three occasions where she believes she came into contact with asbestos. 

From 1979/80 she spent a number of months at St Maria Gorretti Roman Catholic Primary School, Ribbleton, Preston, before moving on to St Benedict’s RC Primary School, Walton-le-Dale,  where she stayed until the school merged with St Mary’s RC Primary School, Brownedge, Bamber Bridge. She then moved to St Mary’s RC Primary School in Leyland where Mrs Devaney remained until 2004.

Penny recalled to lawyers at Irwin Mitchell that in her period working at the schools she was exposed to dirty and dusty environments as construction was taking place at the schools. She regularly visited the school buildings where construction and refurbishment was ongoing and recalls not being provided with any protective equipment to limit her exposure to asbestos.

After leaving full-time teaching she continued to work as a supply teacher for a number of schools operated by Lancashire County Council and Cumbria County Council, until her retirement in 2012.

Ian Toft, an expert asbestos-related disease lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: 

Penny said: “I feel that the public should know about the hidden dangers that expose them to the cancer of mesothelioma. Everyone, and especially parents of current school children, would do well to take a serious look at Michael Lees' website, which is very informative, with issues applicable to anyone working in apparently 'safe' government and public buildings.

“I thought I was in a safe job in a caring profession, but now I find I’m among a small but growing number of teachers who find themselves with this lethal condition. 

“I was given no warnings, training or information about the risks and dangers of potential asbestos exposure and had I known I would never have visited the schools while construction work was going on.

“I just assumed that I’d live into my eighties and continue to experience the great pride and joy that I have in looking after and seeing my grandchildren mature and grow up. My diagnosis came as a bombshell and it is devastating to think my life is now limited because of an industrial disease.

“I hope my former colleagues will come forward with the crucial information my legal team requires to bring my former employers to justice”

Anyone with information about the working conditions Penny was exposed to during her time working as a teacher for Lancashire County Council should contact Ian Toft on 0113 218 6453 or email Ian.Toft@IrwinMitchell.com

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