By John Baron
“Those of June Hancock caliber are heroes,” playwright – and Armley boy – Alan Bennett once said of the driving force behind Armley’s asbestos campaign in the 1990s.
It was a tragedy that affected hundreds of homes in the Aviaries area of Canal Road, Armley.
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JW Roberts was stationed at Armley. His factory manufactured asbestos, which leaked from the factory into the surrounding neighborhood. Children played in and around the factory and in the loading bay, playing among sacks of blue asbestos and making asbestos snowballs, thinking nothing of it.
Activist June Hancock was one of those kids.
June’s mother was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died of the terrible disease in 1982. It wasn’t until June herself was diagnosed in 1994 that she decided to take action against Turner & Newall, JW Roberts’ parent company, and seek justice for her mother and many others affected by the company’s negligence.
Deciding to fight for justice, June hired a team of lawyers to bring the company responsible for her illness to justice. This was the first landmark case brought by a mesothelioma patient who had not worked with asbestos.
In court hearings, local residents testified: “It used to be blue and white. We used to sweep up that blue dust. It was a blue fluffy stuff… I used to get up in the morning and there was always a fine layer of dust across the street with footprints from the early morning workers.”
Regarding the conditions in the nearby school, one said: “The dust was always there when I was at school, on the walls or window sills when it was damp. It was like snowfall.”
June – Backed by former Leeds West MP John Battle, following an inquiry by the Yorkshire Evening Postsecured a landmark victory in 1995. This single case had immense power and forever changed the field of asbestos-related disease litigation and paved the way for others to seek justice.
June’s victory came despite suffering from such a painful and debilitating illness.
Sadly, despite her tremendous strength and determination, June passed away on July 19, 1997 at the age of just 61.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. June’s determination to bring about justice helped raise public awareness of asbestos pollution in the UK. She touched the hearts of everyone she met during her illness and this led to the creation of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund (JHMRF).
The Fund is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special event on Elland Road on Friday night.
JHMRF’s primary objective is to sponsor and promote fundamental research into the causes and treatment of mesothelioma. They also work to raise awareness of the disease and dangers of asbestos and support activities for people living with mesothelioma and their caregivers.
It has raised over £1.5 million, the majority of which is spent on high-quality research into the diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma and the care of people living with the disease.
Most recently, the fund has provided £523,000 for research projects on gene therapy at King’s College, London, immunology-based therapies and a chemical compound targeting mesothelioma cells at Greenwich University.
The JHMRF Research Awards will be presented on Friday and there will be an opportunity to learn about research supported by JHMRF funding.
The event gives attendees the opportunity to meet the successful applicants and learn more about the exciting work they plan to do over the next two to three years.
Members of the patient and public engagement group Me-So-Involved will also be present to discuss patient perspectives and priorities, and how to make patients’ voices heard.
Tea and coffee are provided on arrival and a buffet lunch is served. In the afternoon there is a raffle and birthday cake to go.
The event will take place on Friday 18 November 2022 from 11am to 4pm at the Gary Speed Suite at Leeds United Football Ground, Elland Road, Leeds.
The event is free to attend, but attendance is required Click here to register for tickets. For more information about the event, including how to get to the venue, go to Eventbrite page.
A quarter century after her death, the fight for justice on June’s behalf continues by volunteers from the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund. Her legacy continues to shine across Armley and across the country.