Asbestos victims' cut-price payouts

VICTIMS of deadly asbestos from a Leeds factory will receive just 17p in the pound of compensation awarded by the courts under a "final" settlement from the factory's owners.

A five-year legal wrangle during which many victims of asbestos-related cancer have died, is coming to an end. And the victims could even be forced to pay tax on the payments.

The J W Roberts factory in Armley spewed out deadly asbestos dust for decades before closing in 1958.

The dust affected not only hundreds of workers, but also their families and neighbours.

Hundreds of victims contracted asbestos-linked lung cancer mesothelioma, creating what came to be known as the Armley asbestos tragedy after the Yorkshire Evening Post exposed the scandal in the late 1980s. Mesothelioma is incurable and victims usually die within three years of diagnosis.

A ground-breaking court action against the factory's US owners, Turner Newall, by Leeds cancer victim June Hancock in the 1990s resulted in a compensation award which was seen as a precedent for hundreds of victims. Mrs Hancock died a year after winning her case.

But Turner Newall went into administration in 2001, after thousands of compensation claims were lodged in the US.

A trust fund was set up in Britain to salvage what it could.

After five years of negotiations the trust's administrators are now carrying out a ballot of what is on offer among victims - 17p in the pound. Advertisements have been placed in newspapers giving victims the chance to vote on the offer.

Solicitor Adrian Budgen, who represented June Hancock, said that of a typical compensation settlement of 100,000, victims would receive just 17,000. He said the Government and Charity Commissioners had refused to agree to waive 3p in the pound tax on the settlements.

Mr Budgen, who represents several current Roberts mesothelioma victims, said: "The settlement is low, but we are just not going to make any difference now. We have a UK settlement fund with millions of pounds in it, but it is to cover all existing and future claimants."

In the five years since the administrators moved in many claimants had died. Others had just given up, he said.

The factory was in the Leeds West constituency of Labour MP John Battle, who supported June Hancock and the wider compensation campaign.

Mr Battle said "I will certainly be raising the tax issue in Parliament. After all this time and effort it is really disappointing that the families will get such a pitiful amount."

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