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Asbestos battle turned into play

June Hancock


One woman's legal battle against a factory that engulfed a West Yorkshire town in asbestos dust in the 1930s, leading to 600 people dying from cancer, has been made into a play.

A derelict factory building in Armley will be the setting for the debut of the West Yorkshire Playhouse production entitled Dust.

It documents the story of June Hancock, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma after her exposure to the asbestos dust that came from the nearby JW Roberts factory.

She took Turner & Newall, the parent company of JW Roberts, to court in 1994, in a two-year-long case that set the precedent for thousands of asbestos victims.

Mrs Hancock survived to see the end of the trial, where she won a substantial amount of compensation. She died in July 1997.

Armley Labour councillor Janet Harper said the play would be a "sad reminder of lives already lost".

The JW Roberts plant closed in 1958 but the number of its victims continues to grow. Government figures show that between 1981 and 2005, nearly 600 people from Leeds died from mesothelioma.

Festival director Jane Earnshaw said it was "vital" that the story was told from within the community. She added: "It's still a current story and it will be for a while."

Copyright © Press Association 2009

Adrian Budgen from law firm Irwin Mitchell said: "If she were still alive today, June Hancock would be greatly honoured. June lost her own mother, Maie Gelder, to mesothelioma in 1982 and felt a great sense of injustice. She once said that the fight against Turner & Newall had extended her life, not realising the irony of those words. It was a true David -v- Goliath battle. June said, after winning her famous court case: 'It just shows that no matter how small you are, you can fight and no matter how big you are, you can lose.'"