Governors at Cwmcarn asbestos school upset over choice of expert
IT’S A MESS: Cwmcarn High School shut its doors after asbestos was found in the building but Gary Thomas, chairman of governors, is questioning the independency of a report amid claims it is not impartial
THE governors and head teacher of a Valleys schools closed over asbestos concerns say an independent expert employed to advise the council cannot be impartial – a claim the expert denies.
The leadership of Cwmcarn High School claim Professor Robin Howie, who the Caerphilly council has employed to advise them on three separate asbestos surveys, cannot be considered independent because he has already made comments to the media about the school’s situation.
But Mr Howie refutes their claims, saying his report is based on scientific fact.
In a joint statement with head Jacqui Peplinski, the governors say Prof Howie is a well-known asbestos campaigner and his published opinions on the acceptable levels of airborne asbestos levels go beyond the advice of the Health and Safety Executive.
They believe he is likely to suggest the school remains closed, despite two of the three surveys saying the risk is much lower than first thought.
Chairman of governors, Gary Thomas, said: “He (Prof Howie) is neither impartial nor independent.
“It’s like putting a fox in charge of the chickens and telling him not to take the chickens.
“If the council had taken a second opinion from the Health and Safety Executive back in October it would not have been closed. It’s an absolute mess – it’s dreadful.”
Mr Howie responded, saying: “I would refute the governor’s comment but I will accept that I don’t always agree with the way the Health and Safety Executive interprets its own reports.
“Scientifically I regard myself as impartial.”
The governors’ comments came after Caerphilly’s cabinet member for education, Cllr Rhianon Passmore, said allowing pupils and teachers to return to the school in its condition would breach its duty of care and would expose them to a health risk.
She said there was a significant amount of asbestos debris in the ceiling and roof voids, as well as the heater cabinets and accused the governing body of delaying progress at the school when they banned council workers from the site in December.
The governors dismissed this and said they do not have the keys to the site.
They say the original Santia report, called for by the council, overstated the potential health and safety risk resulting in the “unnecessary and inappropriate” closure of the school.
They reiterate this was highlighted in two subsequent reports by the Health and Safety Laboratory and Ensafe and say the risk is much lower.