Farmer wages High Court war on Cripps

A claim has been filed in the High Court against Cripps Harries Hall and a number of other Kent-based law firms, alleging fraud, negligence, and malicious prosecution.

The claim is the latest chapter in a 10-year saga of war waged by farmer John Hoath against his former advisers Cripps, the accountants who acted as the trustees in Hoath’s bankruptcy Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (PwC), and a number of other Kent-based law firms.

Defendants in the claim, which was filed in the High Court on 23 January, include law firms Brachers, Cooper & Burnett and Rix & Kay as well as a number of individual partners and a barrister.

In 1991, Hoath was made bankrupt and in the process he lost his farm and possessions valued at around £100,000. At the time, Brachers was the firm acting for PwC; the petitioning creditor was Cripps, which had a bill of £14,500 outstanding.

Cripps issued a writ for both the original bill and later for counsel’s fees incurred on the case. Hoath claims that these were incorrectly issued, and therefore the resulting judgments that were passed should be set aside. The claim also alleges that PwC, Cripps, Brachers and various individual partners at these firms “conspired maliciously to make Hoath bankrupt” for the sole purpose of acquiring the farm and concealing their negligence.

Following his altercation with Cripps, Hoath app-roached Rix & Kay and Cooper & Burnett to represent him, both of which are now named as defendants in the claim. He is currently represented by David Charity of Legal Action Charity.

If the case goes ahead, it will not be the first time that Cripps and Hoath have met in court. In November 1998, Hoath won £102,500 in damages for assault, after a tussle with Cripps’ former senior partner Christopher Hall and his son Colin. The brawl erupted after Hall and his son tried to pull down a sign that Hoath had erected, which said Cripps “ripped off its clients”.

In the court case that ensued the judge found in favour of Hoath, but said in his judgment: “Hoath is a bitter, angry man who attributes great wrong to the defendant firm.” Hall has since retired from the firm.

Cripps and Cooper & Burnett both said they will vigorously defend the claim. PwC and Rix & Kay declined to comment. Brachers could not be reached for comment.