THE leader of Thurrock Council has led the tributes paid to a councillor who passed away following a six-year battle with cancer.

Diana Hale, a ward councillor for Stifford Clays and key member of the Thurrock community for more than two decades, died yesterday.

The Labour councillor, who was 66, had been fighting breast cancer since first contracting it in 2007 and was diagnosed with secondary cancer in 2011.

John Kent, Thurrock Labour and council leader said Ms Hale was a "tireless worker for people less fortunate than herself".

Ms Hale, who lived in Connaught Avenue, Grays, was principal at the Thurrock Adult Community College from 1997 to 2011 and served as the council's education portfolio holder between 2007 and 2011.

Ms Hale was first elected as a councillor in 1988, representing Grays North. She then served in Stanford-Le-Hope until 1997, but was forced to resign due to her becoming Thurrock Community College principal.

She returned as a councillor in 2007, representing Stifford Clays. After being reelected in 2011, she was made chairman of the children's services overview and scrutiny committee.

Cllr Kent said: "I am deeply saddened. Diana was a long-time and true personal friend as well as a tireless worker for people less fortunate than herself.

"Her whole ethos was to try and improve other people’s lives and the world is a darker place with her passing."

Last October, Labour leader Ed Miliband presented Ms Hale with a merit award for outstanding service to the party at its conference.

In addition, Ms Hale was a non-executive director on the Basildon and Thurrock General Hospitals NHS Trust between 1997 and 2005 and was chairman of the Davy Down Trust.

Diana's ward colleague, Cllr Angela Gaywood, paid tribute on Twitter on Thursday night: "Saddened to hear the news of the loss of a much loved colleague & ward partner who championed education and equality. Sorely missed xxx"

Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price said: “Diana was public spirited to the end. The way that she fought her cancer over a number of years was inspiring. I am full of admiration for her dedication to her role as a councillor and the good causes she supported. She made a real difference and will be missed.”

Phil Anderson, Thurrock Conservative leader said: "I was saddened to hear the news of Cllr Diana Hale’s passing after a courageous battle with cancer. Diana was one of the real characters of Thurrock politics: strong and principled in her views; always up for a political argument but equally willing to work together across political boundaries in the interests of local people.

"Her dedication and commitment will be a great loss to the Council and to Thurrock. On behalf of the Conservative Group I offer our condolences and best wishes to her family and friends at this difficult time."