Beresfords, a tiny firm of solicitors in Doncaster, has received £123m from the taxpayer by winning compensation claims on behalf of coal miners for work-related diseases, new government figures show.
The head of the firm, Jim Beresford, had a personal salary of £16.7m in 2006 and two partners – one of whom was his daughter Esta – shared a further £3.7m between them last year.
The largesse ultimately came out of a high court victory by miners nearly 10 years ago when British Coal and the National Coal Board were found to be negligent with the health of their staff.
Beresfords is just one law firm that has transformed its fortunes through the government-backed compensation schemes. But the schemes have also led to many partners facing the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in what has become the biggest single-issue set of cases handled by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Other solicitors to benefit from the compensation schemes include Thompsons, which made £131m, Raleys, of Barnsley, with £77m, and Watson Burton, which received £32m. The payments come from representing miners’ claims for compensation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and vibration white finger, said Lord Drayson, a business minister, in response to parliamentary questions from Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract.
The government confirmed last night that more than £1bn has been paid to lawyers while £3.4bn has gone to 566,000 miners. More than 150,000 claims have still to be processed.
Lord Lofthouse said it was “staggering” that nearly 70% of claimants received less than the cost of administering them under the Coal Health Compensation Schemes.
Lord Drayson blamed it on the way the high court rulings were worded. “Each claim is assessed individually and takes into account a number of factors including employment and medical histories. The department has sought to minimise the administrative costs of the scheme but these costs indicate the scale and complexity of the process required,” he said.
The department of business, enterprise and regulatory reform has already taken steps to cut by £100m the legal cost of claims for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease through a fast-track compensation scheme and is negotiating a lower tariff for vibration white finger claims, he added.