‘Did I get cancer from the classroom?’ Former Sheffield teaching assistant battling asbestos related cancer

Susan Law, who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos. She believes this could have come through her work at Marlcliffe Primary School in Hillsborough. Pictured with husband Dennis.
Susan Law, who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos. She believes this could have come through her work at Marlcliffe Primary School in Hillsborough. Pictured with husband Dennis.
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A former Sheffield school teaching assistant has been diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer – due to possible exposure in her old workplace.

Mother-of-three Susan Law, from Hillsborough, was ‘absolutely devastated’ to be diagnosed with mesothelioma after suffering from shortness of breath.

After tests, her family was stunned to discover that asbestos exposure was the cause.

Susan, aged 64, worked at Marlcliffe Primary School on Marlcliffe Road, Wadsley, for nearly two decades as both a dinner lady and teaching assistant.

Last month, The Star exclusively reported that some eight in ten Sheffield schools contain asbestos. Marlcliffe Primary School is one of them. Susan said: “As a family, we have been left absolutely devastated by my diagnosis.

It was even more of a shock to find out that my disease was caused by exposure to asbestos, which may have occurred at Marlcliffe School, where I worked for almost 20 years.

“I hope that my former colleagues will come forward with information, no matter how small, on the presence of asbestos.”

Figures obtained through The Star’s Your Right To Know campaign revealed last month that 86 per cent of primary schools and 35 per cent of the city’s secondary schools contain potentially deadly asbestos – with the problem so bad in one school that pupils and teachers do not put drawing pins in the walls as they fear disturbing the asbestos.

Susan’s husband, Dennis, aged 66, said she has started chemotherapy treatment at Weston Park Hospital but there is ‘no real cure.’

He said: “We’ve just got to live with it and cope as best we can.”

Dennis said Susan has now instructed expert asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate how and where she came into contact with asbestos – and if more could have been done to prevent her exposure.

He said he and Susan believe she could have been exposed at Marlcliffe School, and added: “We spoke about it and we can’t possibly put it down to anything else. She did lots of voluntary work there including as a dinner lady, then a teaching assistant, right up to her retirement in 2011.

“She used to do lots of displays where she would put pins in the walls. It could be from that.”

Now Susan and Dennis, along with their legal team, are appealing for Susan’s former colleagues to come forward with any information they may have on the presence of asbestos at the school and what measures, if any, were implemented to protect staff and pupils from exposure.

Irwin Mitchell solicitor Martyn Hayward said: “Asbestos exposure is so often linked to industrial environments, but we are seeing more and more cases where people, like Susan, have been exposed in schools.

“We hope that her former colleagues from Marlcliffe School will come forward to help with our investigation into her exposure.”

A spokesman for Sheffield City Council, which runs the school, said: “We are very sorry to hear of Mrs Law’s condition.

“While we understand she has instructed her solicitors to look into her situation, at this stage it would be inappropriate for us to comment further, as the authority has not been named as a defendant in this case.”

Insulation material asbestos was widely used in the building industry in the 1960s and 70s.

It was banned in the UK in 1999 after a link was established to a number of fatal illnesses, including mesothelioma, when the material is inhaled over a prolonged period of time.

The material is safe unless it is disturbed and the council has said it follows strict national guidelines and protocols to manage the asbestos in schools.