A COUNCIL says it is managing and monitoring asbestos in its schools, after it agreed to pay compensation for the death of a cleaner following exposure to the deadly fibres.

Durham County Council says it is meeting its legal responsibilities on the now-banned material, which was in common use until the 1970s, despite having admitted liability and agreed to pay out to Alan Hamilton over the death of his wife Laura from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in June 2011.

Mrs Hamilton worked as a cleaner at Belmont Comprehensive School, Durham, in the mid-1980s, when industrial illness lawyer Philip Thompson, who represents her husband, says not only was there asbestos present, but large amounts of brown asbestos was damaged and therefore likely to give off deadly loose fibres.

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The out-of-court settlement, of an undisclosed sum, was reached following a three-year legal battle.

Mr Thompson, of Thomson and Co Solicitors, said: “We are delighted to have settled this claim.

“Our client has been determined to prove the extent of asbestos exposure that took place at the school at the time and we had extensive evidence to prove that exposure had taken place.

“Nothing will ever bring back Mrs Hamilton, but this decision will give Mr Hamilton some degree of closure.”

Sean Durran, the council’s senior asbestos officer, said: “We have a comprehensive asbestos management policy and system in place for all council premises, including schools.

“This ensures that asbestos containing materials are managed and monitored in accordance with legal responsibilities.”

Asbestos was commonly used in fireproofing and thermal insulation during the 1960s and 1970s and only banned in the UK in 1999.

Recent reports suggest it is still present in nearly 86 per cent of UK schools.

The Health and Safety Executive says it is “endemic”; and removing it all would cost billions and take decades.

Undisturbed, it can be managed safely; but pressure is growing for the Government to do more.

Mesothelioma claims 2,500 lives in the UK every year – more than the country’s roads – with 300 of those deaths attributed to schools.

Nearly 300 teachers have died of mesothelioma since 1980, including 158 in the last decade, and the rate is increasing – from three in 1980 to 19 in 2012.

The Government is producing new guidelines on managing asbestos in schools and continuing to fund its removal “where appropriate”.

Mr Thompson said: “We are reaching the stage where instances of people who have worked in schools, or who have attended schools as pupils, are contracting asbestos related illnesses with increasing frequency, and the Government is rightly under increasing pressure to address the matter.”

He added: “While cases of this kind will never be as widespread as those we saw from shipyards in the region, they are certainly growing more frequent – and people will want reassurance that there is no ongoing danger from asbestos in schools.”