SRA comes under fire in Beresfords tribunal

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) was accused of ignoring “false information” and holding a “biased” investigation, as the disciplinary tribunal against the coalminers lawyer Jim Beresford continued today.

Beresford, of Doncaster-based firm Beresfords Solicitors, and his colleague Douglas Smith have been accused of 11 counts of misconduct over alleged making excessive amounts of money out of advising sick coalminers in relation to the coalminers’ compensation scheme.

Today SRA investigator Martin Duerdan, who is in charge of the probe into the coalminers’ compensation scheme, took the stand.

SRA counsel Tim Dutton QC of Fountain Court went through Duerdan’s statement, which showed that his investigation into Beresfords looked at 64 coalminer claims, 49 of which were related to the British Coal compensation scheme.

Dutton asked what involvement the Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM) and referral firms Vendside and Walker & Co had when sending claims to Beresfords. According to Duerdan’s investigation, known as the Calvert Report, Smith had said “marketing, vetting and administration”.

Duerdan told the tribunal he found no evidence that the referral firms had undertaken any such tasks. On cross-examination by Beresfords lead counsel Alan Gourgey QC of 11 Stone Buildings, however, Duerdan conceded that the UDM had provided questionnaires completed by miners.

This was not the only point Duerdan conceded. Gourgey suggested that Duerdan had miscalculated the number of UDM claimants that had said Beresfords had not provided information that the Dti would be paying their legal costs.

Gougey also claimed that Duerdan’s investigation contained false information with his knowledge. Allegedly one respondent to the questionnaire said he had not been refunded a success fee from Beresfords while, from his independent research, Duerdan should have known this was false.

To end his questioning Gougey probed Duerdan’s notetaking of a statement made by Beresfords in relation to no longer accepting claims from UDM. According to the SRA report Beresfords stopped using UDM because it was costing the firm millions.

Gougey suggests that this should in fact have been that by no longer accepting UDM claims it lost the firm millions in future earnings.

Duerdan was unable to comment.

The tribunal continues.