Friend demands answers over council worker's asbestos death

Valerie Smith, an Epsom Council worker of 33 years, died of mesothelioma, in April 2014

Valerie Smith, an Epsom Council worker of 33 years, died of mesothelioma, in April 2014

First published in News This Is Local London: Photograph of the Author by , Chief reporter

The death of a council employee from an asbestos-related cancer has been "brushed under the carpet" by the town hall, according to her lifelong friend.

Valerie Smith, 61, of Holman Court, in Church Street, Ewell, died in April of mesothelioma after working for Epsom Council for 33 years.

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer which affects the lungs and abdomen, caused, in most cases, by exposure to asbestos.

Miss Smith believed she was exposed to asbestos while working for the council, when she was based in its parks and recreation department at the Rainbow Leisure Centre from 1992 to 1995. 

And she believed this exposure caused her disease - something which the council denies. 

She believed that an underground corridor, which she walked through at least three times a week, had hot water pipes strung along it carrying water to the swimming pool, which were "lagged with asbestos".

Miss Smith attempted to bring a legal claim against the council, before she died, but it did not reach court. 

In the view of her solicitor, there was not enough evidence to pursue the claim because an asbestos survey by the council had not identified any asbestos in the areas Miss Smith said it had been in. 

The solicitor said the council had acknowledged that asbestos had been removed from the Rainbow Leisure Centre, but that this was before Miss Smith started working there. 

This Is Local London:

Eileen Lawton with lifelong friend Valerie Smith

Following her death, Miss Smith’s friend, Eileen Lawton, 64, is still looking for answers.

Mrs Lawton said: "The diagnosis completely dragged the carpet from under her feet. 

"It was totally out of the blue. 

"She had always been so optimistic and would say ‘once I get over this bit I will be ok’."

A spokesman for Epsom Council said: "The council has never stated the Rainbow Leisure Centre did not include asbestos.

"As with many buildings of its age, asbestos was used as an insulation material within the walls and whist undisturbed it was not harmful to either the staff or users of the facility.

"When walls were repositioned and removed as part of a major refurbishment, the asbestos was removed by a specialised company - at this time Valerie was not working at the Rainbow Leisure Centre.

"Our sympathies are with Valerie’s family, but the claim was passed to our insurers who liaised with Valerie’s legal team and therefore we cannot make further comment."

He said there have been no other claims made in relation to mesothelioma, apart from Miss Smith's, with regards to the Rainbow Leisure Centre.

The spokesman also said that Miss Smith had been awarded £40,000 from a Government fund in compensation for her disease.

But Mrs Lawton, of Streatham Vale, is still unconvinced.

She added: "There really isn't anywhere else she could have contracted it from.

"I know nothing will help Valerie now, it just seems to have been brushed under the carpet.

"We want the truth."

Do you know more? Contact Hardeep Matharu on 020 8722 6346 or email hmatharu@london.newsquest.co.uk

 

 

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