Son’s appeal after father who helped build St Ives school dies of asbestos-related cancer

The son of a man who helped expand a school in Cambridgeshire is investigating whether the work may have contributed to his death from asbestos-related cancer.

Michael Johnson, 53, was a pupil at Eastfield Infant Primary School in St Ives, Cambridgeshire in the 1970s, when his father David – a design engineer by trade – volunteered to build an annex.

David Johnson sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 83 after a three-month battle with mesothelioma, a terminal cancer linked to asbestos exposure, often decades earlier.

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His son is calling on anyone with information about the school project to come forward after he orders lawyers to investigate.

Michael said: “Dad was a wonderful man and nothing was too much trouble for him. We know nothing can ever make up for what happened, but we feel we deserve answers about his exposure.”

He explained: “The school has always had limited budgets, so they asked parents to help. Dad was more than happy to help.

Son's appeal after father who helped build St Ives school dies of asbestos-related cancer

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“Before he died, Dad said he remembered there were about eight or nine volunteers helping out and he had to cut the sheets with a handsaw and that caused a lot of dust.”

Today, July 2, is Action Mesothelioma Day – launched to raise awareness for the deadly disease that currently has no cure.

David left school in 1952 at the age of 16 and immediately started an internship in a drawing office, after which he started working for several companies in design positions.

After retiring to Hertfordshire, David developed symptoms of shortness of breath and diverticulitis in October 2018. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in June 2019 and died three months later.

Michael said: “Daddy’s condition gradually deteriorated and he was having trouble breathing. However, being told he had mesothelioma was the last thing anyone expected of us because of his work history.

“It wasn’t until we spoke after his diagnosis that we thought volunteering at the school might be a problem.”

David Johnson, a design engineer, passed away in September 2019
David Johnson, a design engineer, passed away in September 2019

Lacey St James, legal expert at Irwin Mitchell representing Michael, said: “While many people often associate asbestos with heavy industry, its use was widespread in public buildings such as schools, hospitals and offices.

“We have seen incidents where support staff, teachers and even former pupils have been affected by asbestos exposure.

“Michael and the rest of his family are still devastated by David’s death and understandably have some concerns.

“It is believed that David was never exposed to asbestos during his career and as such his time as a volunteer at this school has been scrutinized.

Michael Johnson with his parents David and Brenda Johnson
Michael Johnson with his father David and mother Brenda Johnson, who died in 2005

“So we’d love to hear from anyone who remembers this project, as well as others with more general information about the presence of asbestos at Eastfield Infant School.”

The school declined to comment as they are seeking legal advice.

Michael added: “I would be extremely grateful to anyone who could provide information about the project or the school. It can really make a huge difference to our family.”

Anyone with information is requested to contact Lacey St James on Irwin Mitchell on 0203 0403 445 or email [email protected]

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