The family of a Marlow teacher who sadly died from a type of cancer believed to be caused by asbestos are fighting to raise awareness of the substance in schools.

Susan Stephens taught at a number of primary schools in the area, including Burford Primary School in Marlow, and battled mesothelioma.

She previously told the Bucks Free Press she believed the cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos in the workplace.

Mrs Stephens launched legal action against the then-Bucks County Council but died aged 68 in 2016 – much before its conclusion in December 2020, which her family say resulted in an out-of-court settlement.

The well-loved teacher worked at Burford Primary from 1995 until her retirement in 2006. She taught more than 800 children in her 30 years of teaching.

Now, six months after her family won their legal battle against the council, are fighting to continue to raise awareness of asbestos in schools and to “help protect future generations of children and teachers”.

Sue’s daughter Lucie said: “My dear mum’s diagnosis with mesothelioma was a big shock for everyone. She had worked hard her entire life, giving hundreds of children a great start in school. We had no idea that teachers and pupils were so often at risk of asbestos in schools.

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“Mum was furious that she wasn’t made aware of the issue and wasn’t protected. She worried how many of her colleagues and students would also have been exposed over the years.

“She started the legal case because she wanted her employers to be held to account. Sadly she died long before they accepted responsibility.

“We have all lost so much and were not ever prepared to give up on the legal case for mum, despite the case being vigorously contested by the Local Authority throughout.

“Through our campaigning work we have met many others that have also been affected by asbestos in schools. I hope our legal victory will push local authorities to take action on asbestos in schools.”

She said their legal advisor Helen Grady, an industrial disease expert at Simpson Millar which specialises in cases of mesothelioma resulting from low level exposure to asbestos, spoke to a number of Sue’s former colleagues and went through the school’s asbestos surveys with them.

Lucie added: “Burford Primary school contained lots of asbestos and we discovered details of potential exposures in the boiler house, an asbestos kiln in the art room and a large hole in the asbestos ceiling in the cloakroom beneath which mum stood supervising the young children.

“In addition, asbestos lagged pipework beneath all of the floors throughout the school, asbestos ceilings in the boiler house and possibly asbestos lagged old boilers and pipework, where the teachers used to go to dry out the artwork.

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“Mum and all of the witnesses clearly remembered extensive boiler house refurbishments not long after mum started at the school, where old boilers were ripped out. It was strongly suspected that these old boilers contained asbestos lagging, along with asbestos lagged pipework.

“However, there were no documents relating to the boiler house refurbishments in the disclosed asbestos surveys and so the caretaker’s memory and recollection of events was invaluable.”

An online petition set up by the family has garnered more than 123,000 signatures and asks Education Secretary Gavin Williams to “protect our children and teachers from asbestos exposure at school”. They say they are hoping to deliver the petition to the Department for Education “soon”.

Ms Grady said: “This was such a tragic case and Sue’s premature death was a huge loss for the family and during the time of the case.

She added: “We know of the menaces of low-level asbestos exposures, and we all need to be extremely careful of our surroundings in our homes and inside these old buildings and I do hope that the family’s online petition will have the desired results.

“It is essential that asbestos is removed from all schools by 2030.”