Appeal issued after former East Devon council CEO dies of asbestos-related cancer

East Devon District Council former offices at The Knowle. Ref shs 03 19TI 8509. Picture: Terry Ife

East Devon District Council former offices at The Knowle. Ref shs 03 19TI 8509. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

East Devon District Council’s former chief executive officer (CEO) died of asbestos-related cancer, an inquest has heard.

Industrial disease has been recorded as the cause of death of John Vallender.

Assistant coroner Debra Archer said the malignant mesothelioma was more than likely caused by asbestos exposure during Mr Vallender’s employment.

John Vallender, who was EDDC’s CEO between July 1984 and June 2002, was given the mesothelioma diagnosis in January 2018.

The 72-year-old father-of-three sadly passed away in November 2019.

Before his death, he instructed expert asbestos-related disease lawyers at Simpson Millar to investigate his employment history.

According to a freedom of information request the building - which has now been sold - contains large quantities of asbestos.

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In the 90s action was taken to remove asbestos from the council chamber, and whilst the council acknowledged its presence in the building, it is claimed that the fibres were not disturbed and would have been safe.

Speaking of his ordeal before his death, Mr Vallender said: “The council building itself was very old, large and dusty.

“My office was refurbished during my time there and I saw people carrying out maintenance activity over the years and that included rubbing down fire doors and working up in the roof space above the offices on the top floor.

“It feels very plausible that I – as well as my colleagues - would have been inhaling dangerous and microscopic asbestos fibres as a result or working in and walking around the entire buildings, over the years.”

An EDDC spokesman said: “We note the comments of the family’s solicitor and the council was not present at the inquest.

“There is ongoing litigation involving the council’s insurers and a further comment in this respect would not be appropriate. We extend our sympathies to John’s family and our thoughts are with them.”

Simpson Millar is now appealing on behalf of Mr Vallender’s family for anyone else who worked at The Knowle between 1984 and 2002 to come forward with any information on any work undertaken over the years.

If anyone has any information contact Helen Grady of Simpson Millar on 0808 129 3320 or email