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Former Kent teacher died of mesothelioma after suspected asbestos exposure at school


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A former teacher who died of an asbestos-related cancer is thought to have contracted the condition while working at a Kent school.

Grandmother-of-six Elizabeth Murphy, known as Betty, spent 30 years working as a supply teacher across Canterbury and Whitstable before tragically dying of mesothelioma - an incurable lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

Betty Murphy
Betty Murphy

She is believed to have encountered the material while working within schools - and her heartbroken family are now trying to trace any of her former colleagues who may be able to help them investigate what happened.

Mrs Murphy sadly died at her home in Alexandra Road, Whitstable, on August 6 last year at the age of 75.

An inquest held in Maidstone in December found she died of bilateral bronchopneumonia, caused by pleural mesothelioma.

Coroner Joanne Andrews said: "It is believed that she contracted industrial disease as a result of her employment as a teacher."

The importation, supply and use of all asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999.

'We’re shocked and saddened that Betty died from mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos in the career she loved so much...'

But before its dangers were fully understood, the fibrous material was commonly used in buildings for purposes including insulation and roofing, and many buildings built before 2000 may still contain asbestos.

Mrs Murphy - who formerly taught under her maiden name, Miss Sullivan - enjoyed a three-decade career as a supply teacher working at various schools in Kent, before retiring in the early 2000s.

She taught mainly English, French and history, working at Canterbury schools including Barton Court Grammar School, the now-demolished Chaucer Technology School, and Beech House Hospital School prior to its closure in 1994.

She also worked at Joy Lane Primary School in Whitstable.

Mrs Murphy's family say that prior to her death, she recalled how she and her fellow school colleagues would make holes in walls and ceilings of classrooms when hanging displays.

Mrs Murphy - who taught under her maiden name, Miss Sullivan - enjoyed a three-decade career as a supply teacher working at various schools in the county. Stock picture: Comstock/Thinkstock
Mrs Murphy - who taught under her maiden name, Miss Sullivan - enjoyed a three-decade career as a supply teacher working at various schools in the county. Stock picture: Comstock/Thinkstock

The family have now instructed social justice law firm, Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, to look into her death.

Their lawyer, Lorna Webster, said: “Although asbestos use was banned in the UK in 1999, mesothelioma often develops decades after the exposure.

"With many school buildings dating back to times when asbestos use was commonplace, we’re unfortunately seeing mesothelioma cases in a number of people who worked in schools.

"It’s not only factory workers and tradespeople who have been exposed to asbestos throughout their working lives.”

Mrs Murphy's family are looking to get in touch with any former colleagues who may be able to provide additional information about her exposure to asbestos during her time as a teacher.

"It’s not only factory workers and tradespeople who have been exposed to asbestos throughout their working lives...”

They said: “We’re shocked and saddened that Betty died from mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos in the career she loved so much.

"Many people think that asbestos diseases only affect tradespeople and factory-workers, but unfortunately many former school staff are affected too.”

Barton Court Grammar School declined to comment, as did Kent County Council speaking on behalf of Chaucer Technology School, Beech House Hospital School, and Joy Lane Primary School.

For more information on how we can report on inquests, click here.

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Read more: All the latest news from Whitstable

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