The family of a former art teacher who died from asbestos-related lung cancer caused by years of pinning pupils’ work to classroom walls has instructed lawyers to look in the tragedy.
Jennifer Barnett, 60, spent 17 years at one school where she regularly put up children’s work on the walls which contained asbestos, an inquest heard.
The mum-of-four left the profession in the 90s but was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2013 and died just 14 months later.
A coroner ruled she died of an industrial disease and had been exposed to asbestos during her job and her grieving family have now hired lawyers to investigate.
Her husband Nigel told the inquest: “She became an art teacher and worked at various schools, often hanging paintings on walls containing asbestos.”
He added that she also did clay modelling with pupils and the damp cupboard the school used to store clay items was lined with asbestos board.
He said: “Jen was a fantastic wife and a wonderful mother to our four children. She was so precious to us and it is hard to believe she’s gone.
“Prior to her illness, she was a very fit and healthy 60-year old who enjoyed playing tennis in her spare time and was a dedicated and extremely talented artist who continued to work right up until her death.
“Our youngest daughter was only 18 when her mum passed away and was just about to start university.
“The whole family misses her dreadfully and we are all shocked and devastated that her life was cut short so suddenly.”
Jennifer worked at Archway School in Stroud, Glos., between 1980 and 1997 where she was known as Miss Shonk and became a much-loved head of art.
Her family said she often pinned artwork to walls and ceilings which contained asbestos, as well as using cupboards lined with the harmful boards.
She left teaching aged 42 to have her youngest daughter, but carried on working as an artist even after she was diagnosed with cancer of the lining of the lungs in July 2013.
Her proud family said she remained positive during “gruelling” chemotherapy treatment, but died the day after celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary, in September 2014.
An inquest into her death in January ruled she died of malignant mesothelioma due to industrial disease, and a post mortem found a large tumour in the right lung.
It also heard she had been exposed to asbestos when she cut up a shed as a teenager.
Gloucester coroner Katy Skerrett said: “It is clear that there was sufficient exposure to asbestos in her occupation for me to reach a conclusion that this lady died from an industrial disease.”
Nigel added: “I’ll never forget the consultant at the hospital asking Jen if she’d ever been exposed to asbestos and her saying a definite ‘yes’ because she knew a lot of asbestos was previously used in school buildings.
“Jen fought the cancer bravely and remained positive throughout gruelling sessions of chemotherapy.
“The day before she died, she even managed to come to the little village church where we were married to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and we had a very special day together as a family.
“Photographs taken that day show her smiling and we will always treasure them.”
Nigel, from Painswick, Glos., has instructed specialist asbestos disease lawyers at Novum Law to investigate his wife’s working conditions at the school.
He added: “I am hoping former teachers or ex-pupils will come forward who may have some knowledge about the asbestos ceiling tiles at Archway School or know of any other asbestos products or materials that were used there.”
Helen Grady, an asbestos disease solicitor at Novum Law said: “It is alarming that we are seeing more and more cases involving teachers.
“Asbestos was widely used in the UK as a building material for fireproofing and insulation from the 1950s up until 1985, when most types were banned.
“It was banned completely from new buildings in 1999 but, sadly the damage had already been done for thousands of victims who have paid the ultimate price for going to work every day.
“We hope anyone who may have attended Archway or worked there remembers Jen and can shed more light on how she got exposed.”
Archway headteacher Colin Belford said staff were saddened by their former colleague’s death, and were not aware of the issues raised by the coroner.
He added: “Staff who worked with her at Archway spoke of her with great affection and admiration.
“I can say that all of the building work which has taken place at Archway in recent years is fully compliant with modern building regulations.
“I am not aware of any current risk to staff or students but will ask the local authority for its assurance on this matter.”
Phil Ashbee-Dobbins, Gloucestershire County Council asbestos administration officer, said: “Buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s, and even up until the late 90s often have asbestos in them.
“It doesn’t pose a risk unless it is disturbed, and we help schools under local authority control keep their own accurate records and to make sure it is treated properly and safely.
“Archway School has been extensively renovated in recent years. In addition, regular asbestos audits are completed as part of standard health and safety procedures.
“While we are unable to comment on this specific case, we would like to reassure parents, pupils and teachers that current guidance and practices in our county’s schools appropriately manage the risks associated with asbestos.”