Dust was used to make 'snowballs'

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The Independent Online
Children used to rake up the piles of dust that collected in the streets and homes surrounding the asbestos factory in Leeds and hurl "snowballs" at each other, writes Jason Bennetto.

The dust was so thick that youngsters could draw hopscotch squares on the pavements whilst others played inside the factory walls among the bales of blue and white asbestos.

Between 1938 and 1951, June Hancock, now 59, was one of the children. Arthur Margereson was another. Both went to the Armley Board School, which overlooked the factory. Years later both were discovered to have contracted the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. Doctors believe Mrs Hancock has less than a year to live while Mr Margereson died four years ago.

Yesterday's court judgement ruled that the factory's owners, Turner & Newall, should have known that the children who frolicked among the dust were playing with death. The lawyers argued that there was a wealth of published research by 1950 that showed the link.

The factory, which closed in 1958 after operating for 70 years, on Canal Road is today a squat, single-storey building whose sandy-coloured stone walls have been stained with soot. It is overlooked by rows of pre-war back-to-back terrace houses. The factory, which used to manufacture products made of asbestos, is now being blamed for the death of at least 50 people in the Armley district.

The deadly risk that the asbestos posed was only identified in Armley in 1988 when a cluster of deaths from mesothelioma was identified. It is a rare disease which can take up to 50 years to develop and affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen.

In addition, a recent council-funded survey has revealed that 90 per cent of the houses tested - 258 out of 290 - were contaminated. About 840 homes are affected and residents are trying to obtain compensation.

Mrs Hancock said yesterday: "It has been very tiring and very traumatic and I feel that it proves that however small you are you can fight, and however big you can lose. I lost my mother to the same disease and that was the reason I started this. I am just fighting on behalf of all the other people out there that are affected."

Mrs Margereson is in hospital after suffering a stroke, but her daughter, Linda Mason, said: "I'm glad it's all over, but I wish my dad had been here."