Deprecated: Function session_register() is deprecated in /home/sites/ on line 88 Sonae fire fumes case law firms in malpractice probe
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Sonae fire fumes case law firms in malpractice probe

  • 8-6-2015

Two law firms have been reported for malpractice after compensation action claiming 16,000 people were affected by fumes from a factory fire collapsed.

A judge said the firms "preyed on human susceptibility" and signed up people "willy-nilly" after the June 2011 fire at the Sonae wood chip plant in Kirkby.

The Solicitor's Regulation Authority confirmed it was investigating GT Law and Walter Barr Solicitors.

GT Law strongly denied wrongdoing and Walter Barr was not contactable.

Walter Barr is no longer at a registered address in Blackburn and the phone to its office in Cheadle Hulme is out of service.

'Inaccurate and exaggerated'

Mr Justice Jay rejected 20 test cases and expressed concerns over forged signatures in some questionnaires used by the law firms, adding "whole families" were signed up "apparently willy-nilly".

The judge's ruling said evidence was "vague, impressionistic, imprecise" and one doctor's testimony was based on "ersatz epidemiology which fell away once individual cases were examined".

Some symptoms were short-lived and most of the time smoke was blowing away from the plant, he found.

"Had 16,000 people really suffered symptoms of the severity claimed, one would surely have seen evidence of complaints to newspapers and to the local council, increases in GP attendances, and some contemporary record of a problem," the judge said.

Many questionnaires were inaccurate and exaggerated, the judge said, bringing into question the objectivity and integrity of the process, and the set up of pop-up shops and cold-calling of potential claimants did not "inspire any degree of confidence".

There was a lot of ill-feeling in the neighbourhood directed towards Sonae, and many people genuinely believed they must have been harmed in some way, he said.

The judge added: "The legal process preyed on human susceptibility and vulnerability, and the rest is history."

Portuguese company Sonae stopped production in 2012 at its chipboard production plant after two fires in the space of a year.

In 2013 the company admitted a "breach of duty" but said the courts must decide who was entitled to compensation.

A spokesman for GT Law said: "GT Law strongly denies any wrongdoing following the concerns raised by Mr Justice Jay.

"Our clients' best interests and our integrity are always paramount to us and we take these allegations very seriously."

The company said it was "continuing to investigate and are fully co-operating with our regulatory body, the Solicitors Regulation Authority."

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2015 BBC

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