Preston firm may face police probe over injury claim

A firm of solicitors that pursued a personal injury claim '“ despite having no instructions from the victim '“ could face a police probe after a county court judge said criminal offences may have been committed.
Barber & Co Solicitors based in Preston. Image: Google mapsBarber & Co Solicitors based in Preston. Image: Google maps
Barber & Co Solicitors based in Preston. Image: Google maps

Preston firm Barber & Co, based in Deepdale, was ordered to pay full costs after a hearing at Carlisle County Court was told it made a personal injury claim against insurer NFU Mutual Insurance Services Limited, following a 2011 accident involving a car and a tractor. It came to light when Greater Manchester firm Mellor Hargreaves was instructed by the victim and issued proceedings in July 2012 against the insurer - but by that stage NFU had already agreed to settle with Barber & Co for £1,125 on a split liability basis.

A judgment by His Honour Judge Peter Hughes QC stated it was accepted by Barber & Co that the claimant was never its client, the firm had no authority to act on his behalf, and that a medical report supporting the claim was a forgery.

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He said that it appeared that a number of offences may have been committed including fraud by making a false claim for compensation, forgery of a medical report and engaging in acts tending to pervert the course of justice.

He said: “These are serious allegations, if substantiated.

“What is abundantly clear, though, is that Barber have constantly stalled and obfuscated, and have failed to assist those acting for the claimant and the defendant to resolve the position.

This has materially delayed the resolution of the claim and added significantly to the costs.”

In a statement, Barber & Co said: ‘The firm is obviously disappointed with the outcome of the case which revolved around two non-qualified fee earners creating false documentation and representing client(s) without proper instructions.

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‘The firm have fully co-operated with the SRA. The primary regulatory allegation against the firm relates to a lack of supervision of two former employees, not any misappropriation of funds by Barber & Co.

“The firm are delighted with the referral of the judgment to the police by His Honor Judge Hughes and welcomes any investigations in order to exonerate the firm.’

The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has directed Arif Barber, the principal of the firm, and Yasin Bagas, a solicitor employed by the firm, to appear before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in September.

Both deny allegations of failing to supervise unqualified fee earners and allowing false documents to be created.

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Judgment was eventually entered for the victim in the sum of £2,750 between NFU and Mellor Hargreaves.

In a statement, NFU Mutual said it had devoted significant time and resources to resolving the rightful proprietor of the case, and instructed solicitors firm Browne Jacobson LLP to conduct a thorough investigation.

It said His Honour Judge Peter Hughes QC had “sent a powerful deterrent message” by ordering Barber & Co to pay indemnity costs to NFU Mutual and the legitimate firm acting on behalf of the claimant.

Rob Spiegelhalter, Claims Fraud Manager at NFU Mutual, said: “Our determination to uncover fraud to protect our member’s interests prevented the firm receiving the claims compensation and costs in a case where they were never entitled. The Judgment is not only a victory for NFU Mutual but should also serve to help the insurance industry in the broader fight to tackle suspected fraud by professional organisations.”