Page last updated at 20:07 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 21:07 UK

Mother dies after asbestos payout

Lung x-ray
It was a landmark ruling, paving the way for more cases

A woman who battled for two years for a payout after contracting an asbestos-related disease has died a day after a judge said she should be paid £240,000.

Dianne Willmore, 49, from north Wales, passed away on Thursday from malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused mainly by breathing in asbestos.

She inhaled the dangerous substance as a pupil at Huyton's Bowring School in Merseyside in the 1970s.

Knowsley Council, which is responsible, said its thoughts were with the family.

In a landmark ruling, the High Court decided that Mrs Willmore was entitled to the cash because the council "knew or ought to have known that any more than minimal exposure to asbestos dust was foreseeably hazardous."

'Very courageous'

It is the first time a case relating to exposure in a school has been found in favour of a pupil.

Mrs Willmore, who was from Huyton and went to school there, later moved to Wrexham in north Wales.

The mother-of-two managed to attend much of the hearing in the High Court despite the severity of her condition.

Her solicitor, Ruth Davies, said: "She was a very courageous, bubbly woman who had to face a lot to find justice.

"I managed to contact her last night to tell her the good news, she was delighted. Obviously she was having problems speaking because breathing had become so hard for her."

A cancer of the mesothelial cells which cover the outer surface of the lungs and, less commonly, the abdomen
Most cases caused by exposure to asbestos
The tiny fibres which make up asbestos are breathed in and irritate the lining of the lung, causing cell damage
Alternatively, the fibres may be coughed up and swallowed, leading to damage to the abdomen
The UK mesothelioma death rate is now the highest in the world, with 1,749 deaths in men in 2005

She was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2007 and in July 2009 Liverpool High Court found Knowsley Council liable for damages for negligently exposing her to asbestos fibres while she was a pupil.

The local authority then appealed against this decision and it went to the Court of Appeal. The hearing was heard on Wednesday, where the judge said the council did not have a case to pursue.

She had told the court that she was exposed to asbestos fibres through the ceiling tiles in the school toilets.

They were disturbed by children who used to hide items up there, causing the leak.

Paul Rowan, MP for Rochdale who has campaigned on behalf of Mrs Willmore, welcomed the ruling, saying it was a case that could "affect many more people suffering from the disease".

He said: "She was a brave, brave lady. In doing what she has done she has helped every member of staff and pupil who has been, or will be, exposed to asbestos in a school."

A spokesman for Knowsley Council said: "We have always been extremely sympathetic towards Mrs Willmore's condition and our thoughts are with her family at this time.

"Given the tragic circumstances, the council does not feel it is appropriate to comment any further at this stage."

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