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Substantial Settlement For Woman In Remission From Mesothelioma Caused By School Exposure

Specialist Asbestos Lawyers Secure Settlement And Renew Calls For Asbestos In Schools To be Removed


A woman who was told she had less than a year to live after being diagnosed with a terminal asbestos-related cancer, Mesothelioma has backed calls from her specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell for a scheduled programme to remove asbestos from all school buildings.

Sarah Bowman, from Wembley, London was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in August 2009, caused by exposure to asbestos dust while she was a pupil at a London school undergoing refurbishment in the early 1980s. This form of the disease is rare and affects the lining of the abdomen rather than the lining of the lungs like the more common form of mesothelioma.

Sarah was told by doctors her condition was terminal and that she had less than a year to live. She underwent surgery on her abdominal wall to remove the cancerous tumour following which Sarah has been told that she is in remission which is highly unusual with mesothelioma cases.

The 46-year-old was a pupil at William Gladstone High School in the London Borough of Brent between 1979 and 1984 and recalls that the ceilings of the classrooms and corridors contained asbestos. She remembers the ceiling tiles being disturbed by pupils pushing them up. She also recalled workmen carrying out electrical maintenance resulting in the asbestos dust and debris falling on the floor and on the pupil’s clothes.

Sarah instructed specialist asbestos lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate her case and her exposure to the deadly asbestos dust and her legal team has now secured her a substantial settlement from the London Borough of Brent. The settlement covers her pain and suffering and financial losses throughout the time she was receiving treatment. It is also representative of the significant risk that the mesothelioma may return in future – something Sarah says hangs over her every day. 

Now Sarah and her lawyers at Irwin Mitchell are renewing previous calls for the Government to introduce a schedule of work to identify and remove asbestos from school buildings. A parliamentary report has estimated that 75% of schools in England and Wales contain asbestos.

Expert Opinion
Sarah has been through such a traumatic ordeal for the past few years after learning of her diagnosis and the prospect of facing terminal cancer. Although her surgery was successful, she still lives in fear that it may one day return.

“Asbestos exposure has long been regarded as something that only happens in heavy industry, but the presence of the material in so many public buildings such as schools and hospitals means that more and more people who are not working in traditional construction trades are being affected.

“Through no fault of her own, Sarah was exposed to this hazardous dust as a pupil at a school she was attended and this is a stark reminder of the dangers of exposure to asbestos and the devastating affect it can have on people’s lives.

“We have repeatedly called for a dedicated programme to identify public buildings across the country containing asbestos, and a schedule to systematically remove it on a priority basis depending on its state of disrepair in each situation. Given the vulnerability of children to the potential dangers of asbestos – we would suggest schools are given the highest priority in any action that may be taken.”
Joanne Jefferies, Partner
Following her surgery, the mother-of-two was left with scarring and developed depression. Sarah has been unable to work and she still continues to suffer from lethargy, low self-esteem and constant fear that the cancer will return.

Commenting on her case, Sarah said: “My life has been turned upside down since my diagnosis – although at the moment I am in remission, I am petrified that one day the cancer will return and I will have to relive this whole ordeal once more. To be told that I had a terminal illness and had less than a year to live was simply too much to comprehend and my family and I have struggled to overcome this.

“I am relieved that the London Borough of Brent has finally admitted liability for my exposure to asbestos at school and I am grateful for the help of my legal team at Irwin Mitchell to help me secure justice for my horrific ordeal.

“I am focusing all my energy of looking to the future and looking forward to returning to work and getting some normality back to my life. I was devastated to find out that it was exposure to asbestos decades ago which caused my illness and I hope that more is done to ensure people are protected from the deadly substance in future.”

Michael Lees, a founder member of the Asbestos in Schools Group, said that “As parents we send our children to schools in the belief that they will be safe. It is therefore appalling that they are being exposed to asbestos and their lives put at risk. The dreadful suffering that Sarah is very bravely enduring was totally avoidable. 

“Evidence given to the Education Select Committee estimated that between 200 and 300 former pupils will die each year from their exposure to asbestos at school during the 1960s and 1970s. Most of that asbestos remains. The Government is presently reviewing its asbestos policy for schools and we have asked that they adopt long term strategic policies, identify those schools that contain the most dangerous asbestos and progressively remove it. This is a national scandal and urgent, long overdue, action is needed to prevent further asbestos exposure of children and staff in our schools.”

If you or a loved one has been affected by an asbestos related illness, our solicitors can help you to claim compensation. See our Asbestos Claims page for more information.