Monday, August 23, 2010

Law Society investigates solicitor over missing miners' compensation

Yesterday's Scotland on Sunday reported that Glasgow solicitor Paul McConville is being investigated over claims that his firm, McConville O'Neill, failed to pass on compensation payments it received to clients.  The firm specialised in compensation claims for miners for such conditions such as Vibration White Finger.

The Labour Government set up a system whereby claims from miners were dealt with through a series of schemes. Usually claim handlers from Capita processed them and made offers of compensation. This saved miners from having to take action in separate court cases.

I know a little bit about this because former Dunfermline and West Fife MP Willie Rennie spent several years working on constituents' behalf. Two were featured earlier this year in a Dunfermline Press report. Willie described the way they had been treated as an "outrageous betrayal of two hard working miners." One of them, Andy Hunter, found out that £12600 had been paid to McConville O'Neill for him from Capita in 2008 and he has never received it.

Willie had asked the Labour Government to write directly to all the miners who had claimed compensation through McConville O'Neill to tell them what had happened to their claim and whether any money had been paid to the law firm on their behalf. That to me seems to be a sensible first step, so that people would be aware if the solicitors had either missed a vital deadline, or would be able to complain themselves if they had not received any compensation but nothing was done. It's the only real way to properly identify the extent of the problem and provide the Law Society with all the evidence it needs to consider for its investigation.

It is appalling that, without Willie's intevention, the men he helped may never have discovered the true state of affairs with their case as they couldn't correspond directly with the Government as they only recognised their solicitors and those solicitors were not communicating properly with them. It seems to me that enough warning bells were sounding about this and I think the Labour Government should have made more of an attempt to investigate them properly at the time.

There are clearly questions to be answered and the money paid by the Government to McConville O'Neill needs to be accounted for. I think there are enough questions to merit the Government taking action as they are the only people who know who all the former miners represented by the firm are. Willie asked for more people to come forward but there's only so much that individual newspaper reports can do - a letter from the Government to every miner affected would have much more of an impact.

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