The widow of a headteacher may sue Cumbria County Council after an inquest ruled that his death was linked to asbestos exposure at his school.

Eileen White, whose husband was head of St Cuthberts RC school in Botcherby, Carlisle, between 1982 and 2001, will make a decision after her legal team has received a full transcript of the hearing.

Coroner David Osborne recorded a verdict that John James White, who was known as Ian, died of an industrial disease on Christmas Day last year. He was 65. Mr. Osborne ruled that was as a consequence of asbestos exposure during his employment at the school and raised concerns about its presence in other school buildings across the county.

He heard that Mr. White involved himself in the maintenance of the school along with the caretakers. It was in these circumstances that he may have come into contact with asbestos dust and fibres. Mr. White had also informed his wife that concerns about asbestos ceiling tiles and even asbestos dust blowing in the school yard had been voiced by his colleagues.

His widow, who lives in Stanwix, said after the hearing: Ian was a dedicated teacher, committed to the health and safety of his pupils and staff. He had checked if there was asbestos in the school and had been reassured by the local education authority that the school was safe.

However the inquest verdict now calls that into question. Mrs. Whites lawyer, Neil Wilkinson, said she may sue the county council but a final decision would not be taken until the transcripts of the inquest had been received and studied. He said: Sadly the number of school teachers diagnosed with the condition mesothelioma has increased over recent years.

Asbestos was commonly used as fireproofing and as an insulation material in schools up until the mid 1970s and much of this material remains in place. If not properly maintained or disturbed then asbestos can be highly dangerous. The county council recently confirmed that almost 200 schools in Cumbria contain asbestos. Surveys on schools run by the local education authority confirm only a small number are asbestos free. Those certain to be clear of the substance would have to be under 10 years old. Health and safety manager Kym Allan has said there is no danger to children, parents and staff in any of the schools, adding that asbestos only becomes dangerous once it is damaged.

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