Lawyers Say Campaigner’s Landmark Legal Case Is More Relevant Than Ever Due To Asbestos In Public Buildings
Specialist asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell attended an event on 18 November to mark the silver anniversary of a pioneering asbestos cancer research foundation, as new research shows that asbestos remains present in a great many public buildings across the country.
The trustees of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund (JHMRF) and guests gathered at the Eddie Gray Suite at Leeds United’s ground to present new research awards, hear about the latest progress and remember an amazing woman and a ground-breaking case that transformed support for those living with asbestos-related diseases.
It was also announced at the event that a blue plaque is also set to be unveiled by the Leeds Civic Trust at June’s childhood address, in memory of her and others whose lives were cut short after living close to the JW Roberts asbestos factory in Armley, Leeds.
While the JHMRF continues to support research into asbestos-related mesothelioma, the event was also an opportunity to shine a light on the continuing danger posed by asbestos. Far from being eradicated, the deadly substance still remains present in very many public buildings throughout the UK, including the majority of schools and hospitals.
Earlier this year, MPs said a 40 year deadline should be set for the removal of asbestos from the estimated 300,000 public and commercial buildings that still contain the substance. The report, from the Work and Pensions Select Committee was ultimately rejected by the Government.
To establish a clearer picture of asbestos in public buildings, Irwin Mitchell contacted 20 local authorities in the UK as part of new research looking at the numbers of buildings such as schools, libraries and leisure centres that still contain asbestos and how this is monitored.
In response to Freedom of Information Requests (FOI), local authorities reported hundreds of buildings still containing asbestos, with Bradford, Kirklees and Sheffield reporting over 660 buildings. Leeds Council was unable to comply with the request.
Schools, community centres and residential buildings all featured high on the lists and while all had carried out asbestos surveys on all their properties in the last five years, none reported asbestos being removed during the same period.
Expert Opinion“It’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed since the founding of the JHMRF and even longer since June’s famous victory for victims of asbestos-related disease everywhere.
“June’s success literally changed the legal landscape for those seeking compensation for their illness, giving hope to thousands of others and proved vital in raising awareness of asbestos.
“This event is a time to remember June and the amazing things we have been able to achieve for others like her since, but also to reflect on the fact that 25 years on, the battle is far from over.
“Our research shows asbestos remains present in large numbers of public buildings and our findings reveal different attitudes to surveys and removal options from council to council.
“Despite the report by MPs, it looks unlikely the government will legislate for the removal of this asbestos. Until such time, we must remain vigilant and ensure the public are aware of the risks.
“With asbestos still present in tens of thousands of public buildings, from schools and leisure centres to residential and care homes, this is a substance that, even 27 years after June’s case, retains its status as the UK’s number one silent killer.” Adrian Budgen, Partner
June Hancock was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 1993 and instructed Irwin Mitchell to pursue a legal challenge regarding her exposure to asbestos. June had grown up as a child very close to the JW Roberts asbestos factory in Armley, Leeds.
June’s case was the first to be brought by someone with mesothelioma who had not worked with asbestos and her legal team, led by asbestos-related disease expert and JHMRF Trustee Adrian Budgen, successfully argued the factory owner should be held responsible for the exposure to asbestos of local residents who lived close to the site and children who attended the neighbouring school.
Her victory in 1995 saw June awarded a five figure sum. While she sadly passed away two years later, the research fund established in her memory in November 1997 has helped to fund ground-breaking research projects, supporting others living with mesothelioma while continuing to campaign to raise awareness of the disease.
Kimberley Stubbs, June’s daughter and a Trustee of the JHMRF, said: “Thanks to the hard work of so many people, the fund has already raised over £2.4 million to help support vital research into asbestos-related cancer.
“These funds are distributed to medical and scientific teams engaged in key research across the country and to award more than £500,000 more on this 25th anniversary is a special moment. For a small charity we have made a big difference and I know my mother would be proud that we have made every year count.
“There’s still much work to be done but this is a time not only to reflect on our achievements, but to redouble our efforts to make a difference for all those impacted by mesothelioma.”
Martin Hamilton, director of Leeds Civic Trust, whose own father Donald recently died from mesothelioma in May 2022, has also worked with the charity to arrange for a blue plaque which is hoped will be placed at June’s childhood home in her memory.
Martin Hamilton said: “Asbestos has left a dark legacy, devastating lives throughout the country but thanks to local heroes like June, thousands of those affected have had a chance to seek justice and treatment, while her legacy lives on in the fund founded in her name.
“Given my own family’s painful links with asbestos, it’s a privilege to be able to arrange a plaque as a tribute to June and so many others whose lives were blighted by living so close to an asbestos factory. The history and experiences of the people who lived here should never be forgotten and this plaque is a testament to them all and to a very special lady whose unique contribution has done so much to offer today’s survivors of asbestos disease the promise of a brighter tomorrow.”