Solicitors accused of 'slicing off' miners' fees

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Sick and elderly miners are missing out on millions of pounds in compensation because of fees being charged by solicitors, an ex-Labour peer has said today.

Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract, himself a former miner, is presenting prime minister Tony Blair with a report which he claims will show that law firms are taking large cuts of the £3.4 billion compensation scheme the government set up to help ex-British Coal workers, many of whom suffer from serious illnesses contracted during their work.

The peer said he is hoping to "shame" solicitors into paying back the huge amounts of money he believes some have taken from compensation paid to miners.

Lord Lofthouse says he hopes Mr Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown would find the time to look "thoroughly" into the report he is presenting to them today.

"What I'm wanting is to be able to get hold of all these miners who have made application for compensation and make them aware…[of] their particular case, so we can take it up with the Law Society or the individual solicitors and hope that they will be so shamed that they'll pay the money back," he told the Today programme.

"The solicitors themselves are guaranteed from the government £2,000 for every case they take, that's an agreed figure. But they haven't been satisfied with that. They've been taking money out of miners' compensation.

"Some of them have been keeping it themselves, I understand, and others have been passing it on to what you call 'claim farmers'; [who have] been directing these poor, sick, unfortunate elderly miners to these solicitors' practices and they've been having the rake-off from the miners' pension - which I think is appalling."

According to Lord Lofthouse, two of the solicitors' firms have had £100 million from the government, "apart from taking slices out of the miners' compensation".

The head of policy at Thompsons Solicitors, Tom Jones, said that law firms who took a cut from settlements awarded to miners by the government acted purely out of greed.

"I think if a law firm is being paid by the government, and there's a fixed fee per case that law firms were getting, then why would they want to take an additional amount?," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

"And that can only be for private profit and greed. Where there is a payment – and it was agreed by the government, it was a set amount per case, it was reasonable – why then do these law firms take extra money?

"And the answer, and what was happening here, was that law firms were seeing the fixed amount and they were thinking, 'Well, if we take an extra bit on top our profit's going to be increased'."

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