Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Sick miners' lawyers struck off

Jim Beresford
Mr Beresford earned almost 17m in 2006

Two solicitors who took millions of pounds from compensation payouts given to sick miners have been struck off.

Jim Beresford and Douglas Smith, of Doncaster-based Beresfords Solicitors, had denied 11 counts of serious professional misconduct.

The Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal heard the men acted "unacceptably" by charging clients even though the government was paying their fees.

It found eight of the 11 allegations against the lawyers proven.

The law firm argued there was "absolutely nothing wrong" with earning substantial fees from its business conduct.

Inadequate advice

Beresford, 58, said last year to be Britain's highest-earning solicitor, and Smith, 52, made millions of pounds from personal injury claims for miners under the government's coal health compensation scheme.

Tribunal chairman David Leverton said: "If ever there was a group of persons who needed the full care and attention from solicitors, it was these miners. "Mr Beresford described himself as an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, his attitude allowed himself and Mr Smith to put commercial goals before his clients' best interests."

The lawyers were also accused of not giving adequate advice and entering into contingency fee deals against their clients' best interests.

Both men denied the charges at the tribunal hearing last month, which heard that up to 30% of a miner's damages could be deducted by Beresfords.

The compensation scheme was set up by the government because of British Coal's lack of safety standards and led to hundreds of thousands of claims from former miners and their families.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) agreed to pay lawyers' fees in successful cases and it was also agreed that in unsuccessful cases miners would not have to bear costs.

Beresford and Smith's joint earnings went from more than 182,000 in 2000 to 23,273,256 in 2006, the tribunal heard.

But Timothy Dutton QC, appearing for the Solicitors' Regulatory Authority (SRA), said charging conditional or contingency fees over and above those set out in the scheme was "unacceptable".

In one case, the firm deducted a "success fee" from the widow of a miner, leaving her with a total payout of just 217.73, the tribunal heard.



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SEE ALSO
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20 Nov 08 |  South Yorkshire
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Solicitors 'misled' sick miners
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14 Nov 08 |  South Yorkshire
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