Widow to sue over asbestos death

A grieving widow has launched a landmark legal action against Norfolk County Council, claiming it failed to protect her late husband from exposure to asbestos while he worked as a school caretaker.

A grieving widow has launched a landmark legal action against Norfolk County Council, claiming it failed to protect her late husband from exposure to asbestos while he worked as a school caretaker.

Legal experts said Irene Harris's claim for damages of up to £150,000 could open the way to other school employees or possibly pupils to come forward.

Mrs Harris is claiming damages in the High Court following the death of her husband Derek, who was exposed to asbestos dust while working as a caretaker at Norwich's Angel Road First and Middle schools in the 1980s.

Education bosses have previously admitted that every school in Norfolk, except those built since 2000, contains some form of asbestos and it could be decades before it is cleared.

Speaking from her home in Brundall, Mrs Harris, 64, said: “When my husband worked as a caretaker he was not told of the danger of working with asbestos, and he was never given any protective clothing.

“I'm sure that there are lots more people suffering or who have died due to the negligence of Norfolk County Council.

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“I also hope that it will act as a wake-up call for those who are suffering to check to see what's wrong with them.”

Mrs Harris is claiming between £100,000 and £150,000 from the council following his death from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen which is almost always caused by asbestos, at the age of just 59 last April.

She claims the council's negligence in failing to protect her husband cut short his life by 14 years.

She added: “The claim for the money is not the big issue. I'm not doing this for myself, but for my husband. He deserves it for what he had to suffer. He had to crawl on the floor at times because he did not have any oxygen.”

She said while her husband worked at Angel Road the pipes and boilers in the boiler houses were insulated with asbestos which was crumbling.

During term times he swept up asbestos from the floors of the boiler houses into piles and shovelled the piles into black bags. During the holidays, after the engineers serviced the boilers, he would again sweep up the waste asbestos.

Richard Clegg, a solicitor with Norwich firm Godfrey Morgan, said Mrs Harris's case could lead to dozens more sufferers or relatives of victims coming forward with claims.

He said: “Schools are under the same obligation to protect their workforce as factories and other businesses, only more so because pupils are forced to attend.”

County council spokesman Steve Reilly said: “We have received the writ on behalf of Mrs Harris and are currently investigating the case. Once our investigations are complete we will respond to Mrs Harris's legal team.”