Huge payout for man exposed to Town Hall asbestos for years after discovery

The council paid him £265,000 in compensation, plus his private medical and legal costs
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

Extensive asbestos removal was carried out as part of the recent Town Hall refurbishment
Extensive asbestos removal was carried out as part of the recent Town Hall refurbishment

A former council employee was paid hundreds of thousands in compensation after he was repeatedly exposed to asbestos in the old Town Hall.

According to court documents obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), the council were made aware of the “widespread asbestos contamination” in the building’s basement by a survey in 1984.

However, for over a decade after the survey, the former employee regularly visited the basement without being warned of the “substantial quantities of absestos” he was at risk of inhaling.

While some of the asbestos was removed during “the early 1980s”, a council spokesperson confirmed that “extensive asbestos removal” was “undertaken as part of the recent refurbishment” last year.

The man, not named at the request of his family, was an administrative worker for Waltham Forest Council and has since died from a rare cancer linked to inhaling asbestos fibres.

Solicitor Peter Williams, who specialises in asbestos claims, told the LDRS: “I think this is the worst example of neglect of asbestos in a public building that I have seen in 30 years.”

“I haven’t come across a situation where there’s been such a report saying ‘there’s stuff here that you need to clear up’ then it’s ignored and people are continuing to work there. They allowed people to work amongst it.”

The former employee was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a “devastating” form of cancer linked to asbestos, in 2018 and filed a claim for compensation to the council.

After initially denying several aspects of his claim, in June 2020 the council agreed to pay compensation worth £265,000, on top of private medical and legal costs.

In the compensation claim his legal team argued: “[The council] knew, and ought to have known, that the inhalation of even small quantities of asbestos dust was dangerous.

“But [the council] did not warn the claimant as to the dangers of asbestos dust or instruct him as to means designed to reduce exposure.

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“Asbestos is present in many 20th century buildings and significant measures can be taken to ensure it doesn’t pose a harm.”

The 1984 report, produced by Winton Asbestos Management, advised that asbestos in the Town Hall basement was “extensive” and should be removed “as soon as possible”.

According to the man’s legal claim, he and other members of staff regularly went into the Town Hall basement to use the printing room or store documents from 1980 to about 1997.

The claim argued: “The documents stored in the basement would inevitably be contaminated with asbestos dust.

“It was also inevitable that he would have been present in or around the basement while some of the asbestos was removed, with inadequate care leaving loose asbestos dust and debris, in the early 1980s.”

A council spokesperson said: “Extensive asbestos removal from the town tall has been undertaken as part of the recent refurbishment by specialist asbestos firms ensuring the building complies to all current legislation.

“We have also settled a historic claim from a former employee who stopped working at Waltham Forest Council two decades ago.

“We understand the concerns of staff and residents – we want to be clear that we take their safety and wellbeing extremely seriously and that the current building is safe to work in and visit.”

The former employee’s court battle came to light after the council refused a Freedom of Information Request from blogger Nick Tiratsoo, on the grounds the documents he requested could be contaminated with asbestos.

Previously, Waltham Forest was prosecuted for two health and safety failings by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In March 2015, the council pleaded guilty to breaking two health and safety laws and was fined £66,000 and ordered to pay £16,800 in costs by a judge at Southwark Crown Court.

An expert report carried out by HSE in 2014 found there had been “no coherent plan to manage asbestos materials” and “no system of regular inspection”.

Waltham Forest’s chief executive Martin Esom is now a non-executive board member of HSE.

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