Legal bill in miners’ payouts scandal tops £1bn

THE final legal bill for two controversial miners’ compensation schemes has been revealed – at more than £1.2bn.

Three legal firms pocketed more than £100m each in fees from the schemes, while another three collected more than £50m.

In total, lawyers and claims handling firms pocketed nearly one third as much as the £4bn of compensation they secured for sick miners or families of men who had already died, many of whom were from Yorkshire.

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But several firms are still facing action over their actions amid allegations some wrongly deducted money from payouts made to miners whose claims they handled.

The Yorkshire Post has learnt that nearly £8m has now been repaid to claimants after probes into 27 legal firms accused of wrongly profiting at the expense of miners.

Wentworth MP John Healey said: “The £4bn compensation shows what a tough job the miners had and the scale of the damage to their health. But it became a gravy train for lawyers.

“It was an outrage that the lawyers grabbed one fifth of the cash and a number of firms abused the scheme and had to be forced to pay cash due to the miners and their widows back to their families.”

The compensation schemes were set up after British Coal was taken to court in 1996 and found negligent in relation to miners suffering from vibration white finger (VWF) and lung disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Agreements were signed which set out fees to be paid to lawyers and other firms who handled claims, although they have widely been criticised since for being too generous.

More than 650,000 claims were submitted by miners or the families of those who had died, and only six now remain to be settled.

According to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which has taken on responsibility for the scheme, claims handlers have pocketed £187.4m for dealing with 169,611 vibration white finger claims, and another £1bn for processing 591,768 COPD claims.

Personal injury specialists Thompsons were the biggest winners, earning £161.1m for handling 82,200 claims, Doncaster-based Beresfords received £143.3m for 92,434 claims and South Wales firm Hugh James got £115.6m for 67,464 claims.

Questions have been raised over how well some firms represented their clients, with a wide variety in how much compensation they secured.

Tom Jones, partner at Thompsons, said: “Thompsons is proud to have acted for tens of thousands of miners and recovered the greatest average compensation of any law firm. Thompsons were involved from the very first of the test case litigation and acted for more miners than almost any other law firm.”

But there were allegations some firms had “double charged” clients, accepting the fee from the Government but also deducting part of the claimant’s compensation.

Several lawyers have been struck off as a result – including James Beresford and Douglas Smith, two former partners at Beresfords – and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) says investigations have now been completed into 27 firms, with £7.7m now recovered for miners.

Bassetlaw MP John Mann, a leading campaigner against the solicitors, said: “It’s quite extraordinary that greedy solicitors have pocketed so much. They should hang their head in shame.”

The SRA said: “All solicitors are compelled by the Code of Conduct to act with integrity and in the best interests of the client. If there is any suggestion that this has not happened, the SRA will investigate the matter and take the appropriate action.”