DARWEN councillor John Roberts, the long-term partner of Blackburn MP Kate Hollern, has died.

The 61-year-old, a major figure in the borough Labour Party for decades, passed away in the East Lancashire Hospice on Sunday afternoon.

Cllr Roberts had been ill with cancer since Summer 2015, shortly after Mrs Hollern was elected to Parliament.

Her predecessor, Jack Straw, said: “John has been a pillar of strength to Kate for many years and his loss will be a huge blow to her.”

Mr Roberts, a former chairman of Blackburn Labour Party and a Darwen resident, was elected as councillor for Marsh House in May 2014.

He was chair of the Darwen Partnership Board and deputy to borough regeneration boss, Cllr Phil Riley.

Cllr Roberts leaves two daughters Faye and Megan and six grandchildren.

Cllr Riley said: “John bore his last illness heroically and uncomplainingly.”

Cllr Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council said: “John will be very much missed for his enthusiasm, passion, energy and political judgement.

“He had a deep sense of social justice that was informed by his experiences as an active Trade Unionist and he was a strong advocate for ward and of Darwen in general. I have lost a good friend.”

He lived in Darwen with Mrs Hollern, his partner of 26 years.

Mr Straw said: “I am very sad. He bore his last illness with great dignity.

“John was a significant figure in the Labour Party for many years especially during the struggles with the Militant Tendency in the 1980s.”

Council Tory group leader, Cllr John Slater, said: “His passing is very sad news.

“He was very hard-working councillor.”

Liberal democrat group leader, Cllr David Foster, said: “John was a larger than life figure who will leave a big hole in Blackburn with Darwen politics.”

Educated at Warwick University and Ruskin College, Oxford, Cllr Roberts had a keen interest in horse racing and was the shared owner of a race horse.

The funeral will be at 10am on Monday at Blackburn Crematorium, followed by a wake at The Pack in Belthorn.

Cllr Roberts, an active in the National Graphical Association, was arrested during the 1986 picketing of Eddy Shah’s Today newspaper.

He worked the Association of Direct Labour Organisations and later set up his own consultancy company advising councils on organisation.