Bob Leakey

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BOB Leakey, who has died aged 98, was a pioneer potholer and cave diver, active mainly in the Yorkshire Dales throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

He was known for his apparent imperviousness to cold which, in the days before wetsuits, enabled him to push the limits of cave exploration during the war years. This included his discovery and exploration of Mossdale Cavern, which was, at the time, the longest and most difficult cave in Britain.

In his book The Darkness Beckons – the history and development of cave diving, Martyn Farr wrote: “In May 1941, having gained entry to Mossdale Caverns in Yorkshire, Leakey made an amazingly bold solo exploration, passing through a series of three short sumps to reach Giant’s Hall... Leakey’s subsequent exploration of this system was to yield nearly nine kilometres of passage, making it, at the time, Britain’s longest cave. Another notable feat was his passage of the sump of Disappointment Pot in January 1944. Leakey was the most exceptional individual and, like Casteret, seemingly oblivious to the cold.”

The writer Sonia Cole reported that he survived three flying crashes, three motorcycle and two car crashes, as well as five bullets which passed through his clothes, a Japanese ambush, a diving accident, a caving accident and a fall into a crevasse – from all of which he emerged with one broken arm and a broken back.

During and immediately after the Second World War he explored caves and climbed in the Himalayas, including two attempts (one solo in 1942 and one with colleagues in 1946) on the, at the time, unclimbed peak of Bandarpunch (20,720 ft).

Robert Dove Leakey was born in Kenya. His older brother Nigel won the VC and his younger brother Rae, awarded the Military Cross, became a major general, and they had a sister, Agnes.

He spent his childhood in Kenya where he was educated to the age of 14 at the government school for boys at Nairobi, and afterwards in England, at Weymouth College.

He trained as an aeronautical engineer, and worked in engineering-related industries in the North of England, and when war broke out was in the aircraft industry. This was a reserved occupation, and it was towards the end of the war that he joined up and fought in Burma.

After the war, he returned to engineering and to Yorkshire, meeting his future wife, Barbara Fidoe, on the train from Blackburn to Hellifield in 1943. They were married in 1947.

Living in Settle, he invented the folding lobster pot, and in the 1960s he set up a small business (R&B Leakey) manufacturing and selling inshore fishing equipment and “Leakey” boats – the name he chose for that part of the business. The business continued into the 1980s.

He served as a magistrate on the Settle bench, and was a governor of Bentham Grammar School.

A singular character, Mr Leakey developed a set of strongly-held political beliefs and ideas. They were unaligned to any established political party, were often idiosyncratic and anti-establishment, and centred on his concerns for the environment – he was an environmentalist before the environment became a matter of general interest – and opposition to war, capitalism, and the military-industrial-financial complex. He was a regular contributor to the Yorkshire Post letter pages.

He stood for the local council and as an independent candidate for the Craven parliamentary constituency in 2005 and 2010.

On both those occasions he was the oldest candidate to stand in a UK general election, and in 2010 he was the oldest ever candidate.

Mr Leakey is survived by his wife, Barbara, their children Julian, Frances and Raymond – their eldest, Benita, died in 2010 – seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.