Earlier this year the Times ran a story about a National Audit Office report that showed that the cost of administering the claims of miners with disabling chest diseases far outstripped the amount of money that was paid out in compensation. The total cost of administering the claims was £2.3bn and more than half of it (£1.3bn) went to pay private lawyers who brought the claims. The Times also noted that,
The [NAO] report was ordered after allegations published in The Times about the financial relationship between the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and solicitors’ firms handling coal health claims, a matter that is now the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation (1).One of the top ten firms to receive large sums of public money as a result was the law firm Browell Smith & Co, that received £54.6 million from thousands of cases (2). The firm specialises in what some might call "ambulance chasing" and its major clients are the National Union of Mineworkers, GMB and TGWU.
Nothing wrong there of course, but for one interesting thing. There appears to be a financial relationship between Browell Smith & Co and the Labour Party. During all those years it was suing the Government on behalf of miners for taxpayers money in fees and compensation it was also donating to the Labour Party coffers.
As the above shows, between 2002 and 2004 the solicitor, from its Newcastle base, donated £24, 633 to the Labour Party in many small and often odd amounts. Now I'm not saying that that is public money moving out of the Treasury via a solicitor into the Labour Party coffers, I am merely pointing out that it could quite easily look like it might be.
Alternatively, if the Serious Fraud Office is looking into possible financial relationships between the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and solicitors’ firms involved with claims, then what pray tell might they think of the finanical relationship between a solicitor and the party of Government involved in the very same compensation claims?
Having said this, perhaps the donations were actually more of those secret proxy donations coming through the system? It's interesting to note that yet again we are in the North-East of England after all. The same solicitor also sponsored a constituency dinner for Hilary Armstrong in 2006 so they are certainly well-connected (3).
Update: Gareth has noted in the comments that also on the top ten list is a solicitor called "Thompson's" and a law firm called "Thompsons Solicitors" has donated £121,990 to the Labour Party. Is it the same solicitor? I did search originally but did a cut and paste from the Times. Should have removed the apostrophe.