Merton Council accepts liability for death of teacher who was exposed to asbestos

Merton Council has accepted liability for the death of a teacher who was exposed to asbestos at a school in Mitcham.

Kathleen Bennett and husband John with her sister Mary and grandson.

Her widower is now urging her former pupils to check whether they will also need treatment.

Kathleen Bennett, who lived in The Green, Morden, with her husband John, taught at the St Thomas of Canterbury Middle School in Commonside East during the 1970s and 80s.

In 1985, a heating engineer alerted the school keeper to asbestos in the roof above the school hall and staff room. Removal work was scheduled for the summer of 1986, but it is not clear whether it took place.

The work was immediately stopped and a clean-up operation ordered, but unfortunately by this time Mrs Bennett had already been exposed to the dust.

The mother-of-two died of mesothelioma, the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos dust, aged 66 in May 2015. Symptoms of the disease can take up to 30 years to appear.

Her husband Mr Bennett, who is assistant scout leader at the 5th Morden Scouts, is now hoping her former pupils will hear her story and make sure they are checked for symptoms of the disease.

The family’s solicitor Peter Williams, a partner at law firm Fieldfisher, said it had been calculated that the disease had taken 18-years from the teacher’s life.

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Merton Council were responsible for all maintenance at the school. The council admitted liability and breach of its duty of care to protect employees in August 2016, and agreed to pay a settlement of £250,000 on January 17, 2017.

A spokeswoman for Merton Council said: “This case is very sad and our thoughts continue to be with Mrs Bennett’s family.

“In the 30 years since this happened, we have all become more aware of the dangers of asbestos.

“It is a substance which, in the years following this incident, was banned and has been banned in construction for many years now, and, with the systems the council now has in place within its schools, we are confident that such an incident would not happen today.”

Mr Williams said: “We are seeing more and more teachers suffering from mesothelioma having been exposed to asbestos working in schools years ago, usually without knowing.

“Kathleen remembered ‘some scare’ over asbestos at her school in the 1980s. It was only through extensive enquiries with witnesses and repeated requests to the council for information that the truth emerged.”

Mrs Bennett also worked at St Peter and Paul Primary School in Cricket Green, Mitcham, and Wimbledon Chase Middle School in Merton Hall Road, Wimbledon.

Source: Wimbledon Guardian

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