Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 16:03 UK

Coal miners' solicitor struck off

By Nina Goswami
BBC News

Andrew Nulty
Mr Nulty retired from law in 2007

A solicitor who once made £13m in a single year has been struck off for his misconduct in handling the compensation claims of sick miners.

Warrington lawyer Andrew Nulty, who made £13m in 2006 at law firm Avalon, has become the third lawyer to be struck off over the government scheme.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found he had taken fees to which he was not entitled.

Mr Nulty, who could not be reached for comment, retired from law in 2007.

He has been ordered to pay £60,000 to cover a proportion of the legal costs of the watchdog Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which brought the action against him.

'Disgrace to profession'

Fellow lawyer Malcolm Trotter, who was at Avalon until 2004, was also handed a £15,000 fine at Thursday's hearing for his misconduct in handling claims.

At the conclusion of the three-day hearing, tribunal chairman Edward Richards said Mr Nulty, who was not present, was "a disgrace to the profession".

All I can say is that it's time somebody took the money off him, put it back in the pot and let these people who are very poorly have the money back
Frank Culshaw, former miner

Miners from across the UK - including Doncaster, Durham, Nottingham, Newcastle, Pontefract and Rhondda Valley - have been represented by claim specialist law firms such as Avalon.

Former miner Frank Culshaw said Mr Nulty was "not living on the same planet" and did not know the hardship of the miners.

"All I can say is that it's time somebody took the money off him, put it back in the pot and let these people who are very poorly have the money back," said Mr Culshaw.

More than 760,000 claims have been registered by coal miners and families who have lost relatives from chronic illnesses due to British Coal's lack of safety standards since the 1970s.

The government, which has the liabilities for British Coal's failing, set up schemes to compensate sick miners and families of those who had died.

Jim Beresford
According to The Lawyer Jim Beresford made 16.8m in a year

The schemes stated the government would pay lawyers for their work but did not clarify that solicitors could not charge clients additional amounts, leaving a loophole in the law.

During the hearing, the tribunal heard that lawyers handling these claims should have received an average fee of £2,332 per case.

In 2006, the year Mr Nulty made £13m, some of his firm's turnover came from him dishonestly claiming a portion of the miners' compensation.

The SRA said it would continue to pursue lawyers it felt had acted wrongly in relation to the compensation scheme.

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: "Solicitors who compromise their clients' interests will face prosecution."

The loss of Mr Nulty's practising certificate follows the UK's highest-paid lawyer, Jim Beresford, and Douglas Smith, of Doncaster-based Beresford Solicitors, being struck off in December for dishonesty.

According to The Lawyer magazine, Mr Beresford made £16.8m in a year - most of which came from the miners' scheme - making him the richest solicitor in the UK.

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