25th Anniversary of June Hancock’s Landmark Legal Victory

October 27, 2020

As a child, June Hancock spent many afternoons playing on the loading bays of a Leeds asbestos factory very close to where she grew up, completely unaware of the dangers lurking.

June and her friends innocently jumped around on bales of asbestos, creating clouds of dust and fibres in the air around the JW Roberts site in Armley. The youngsters also enjoyed throwing asbestos ‘snowballs’ at each other, and playing hopscotch in the dust. Unbeknownst to them, it was a ticking timebomb putting their health at risk. At that time, the long-term effects of the hazardous substance were unknown to the residents living near to the factory.

In October 1993, June was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 57. A terminal cancer of the lining of the lungs, pleural mesothelioma is invariably associated with exposure to asbestos, often decades previously.
Following her diagnosis, June, who had lost her mother to the same illness a number of years previously, instructed lawyers to launch a legal battle regarding her environmental exposure to asbestos.

On 27 October 1995, the legal team helped her secure a landmark victory after arguing that factory owner J W Roberts Ltd (part of the Turner and Newall group of companies) should be held responsible for the exposure suffered by residents living in close proximity to the Armley site.

June’s case was the first of its kind to be brought to court by someone diagnosed with mesothelioma who had not previously worked with asbestos.  She was awarded a five-figure sum by Mr Justice Holland, the trial judge.

Very sadly, June, a mother-of-three, passed away in July 1997, aged 61. However, her legacy of raising awareness of this asbestos-related cancer continues 25 years on from the judgment thanks to the work of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund (JHMRF).

Adrian Budgen, the national head of the asbestos-related disease team at Irwin Mitchell, represented June in her landmark battle for justice. He is also a trustee of the JHMRF. Adrian said, “June was a truly remarkable woman and became a great friend to me. She demonstrated such courage and bravery throughout her legal battle with T&N and the pioneering work she undertook to achieve justice for mesothelioma sufferers lives on through the JHMRF.

“Her victory paved the way for others similarly afflicted to seek justice, and the charity continues to honour June’s memory with its research projects. I am very proud to have been a part of it all.

“Sadly, we still see many cases where people have developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos through no fault of their own, and we will continue June’s campaign to raise awareness of this terrible disease and the dangers of asbestos.”

Dr Kate Hill, trustee of the JHMRF said, “June was such an inspiration to us all and we are privileged to still be continuing her legacy through our ground-breaking research. We have supported more than 20 research projects over the years, thanks to grants and the generosity of people who have donated to the fund.  This has led to vital advances in treatment and care for mesothelioma patients, and we look forward to helping develop new ideas that could help improve and extend the lives of those affected.”

June’s daughter Kimberley said, “It is 25 years since my mum won her landmark legal victory in the courts.  The enormity of what she did is indescribable. Please, if you do nothing else today, take action wherever to become aware of the presence of asbestos.  I will be remembering this anniversary and the immense effort by mum’s legal team at Irwin Mitchell to expedite the court case in the face of huge resistance.”