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December 12, 2008

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Solicitors found guilty in sick-miners scandal

Two lawyers who creamed off millions of pounds from miners’ damages claims have been found guilty of misconduct.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal yesterday ordered James Beresford (pictured) and Douglas Smith, formerly of Beresfords Solicitors, to be struck off after they were found guilty of eight misconduct charges.

The men made a fortune by handling personal-injury claims brought under the Government’s Coal Health Compensation Scheme for miners suffering from vibration white finger (VWF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Beresfords handled nearly 100,000 COPD and VWF scheme claims. It received more than £123 million in fees, but Beresford and Smith took additional sums out of monies meant to go directly to the miners.

In considering 11 breaches of the Solicitors’ Practice Rules 1990, and other regulations, the tribunal found the lawyers guilty of entering into conditional-fee and contingency-fee agreements with clients that were not in their best interests. They also failed to give sufficient information to clients about costs and the funding of claims, and entered into a sham agreement with another company, in which the latter dressed up referral fees as marketing and administration services.

Labour MP John Mann, who has made complaints against nine of the biggest-earning law firms from the scheme, said: “Jim Beresford is a modern-day King Midas, believing that everything he touched would turn to gold, but ending up as the man who would not listen.”

Beresfords Solicitors said it was disappointed by the tribunal’s findings. It said: “Jim Beresford and Doug Smith continue to strenuously deny all the allegations, which relate to matters which arose many years ago.”

Between January 2004 and June 2007, the firm repaid just under £1 million in contingency-fee and conditional-fee deductions taken from the miners’ claims.

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