Remove asbestos from all schools, pleads cancer payout mother

A woman with terminal cancer caused by exposure to asbestos when she was a pupil today called for the deadly substance to be removed from all school buildings.

Mother-of-two Sarah Bowman, 46, spoke out after winning a substantial payout from Brent council.

Ms Bowman, of Wembley, was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in August 2009 and told by doctors that she had less than a year to live.

She was told her illness — a rare form of the disease affecting the lining of the abdomen rather than the lungs — was caused by exposure to asbestos dust at a school being refurbished three decades ago. But after surgery to remove the tumour, she went into remission — highly unusual in such cases.

Ms Bowman was a pupil at William Gladstone High School in Brent be-tween 1979 and 1984, when the ceilings of the classrooms and corridors contained asbestos. She told how pupils would push up ceiling tiles, and how workmen carrying out electrical maintenance would send asbestos dust falling onto the floor and pupil’s clothes.

Documents detailing the case were lodged at the High Court. Brent council has now agreed a substantial settlement to cover her suffering and financial loss. It acknowledged that she lives in the shadow of knowing the illness may return. She also suffered depression and was left unable to work.

Ms Bowman backed calls for ministers to identify and remove asbestos from school buildings. A recent Parliamentary report has estimated 75 per cent of schools in England and Wales contain the material. Speaking for the first time about her ordeal, she said: “Although I am in remission, I am petrified one day the cancer will return.

“To be told I had terminal illness and less than a year to live was too much to comprehend.

“I was devastated to find exposure to asbestos decades ago caused my illness and I hope more is done to ensure people are protected in future. I am relieved Brent admitted liability. I’m looking forward to returning to work and getting some normality back.”

Her solicitor, Joanne Jefferies of Irwin Mitchell, said: “We’ve repeatedly called for a programme to identify public buildings containing asbestos and a schedule to remove it.” The Commons education committee has heard that up to 300 former pupils die each year from exposure to asbestos at school in the Sixties and Seventies.

Michael Pavey, deputy leader of Brent council, said: “We are delighted Miss Bowman’s cancer has not returned and we send our best wishes. The claim has been settled with her agreement.”

Article taken from the London Evening Standard