Leading civil liberties practice Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA) has received a full apology and damages from The Times newspaper over an article which accused the firm of misleading victims of the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.
The settlement came nearly a year since the original article was printed and with the London firm on the point of issuing a claim for libel.
The article – published under the headline “Law firms accused of misleading Magdalene victims” – reported an Irish government statement which suggested that HJA had falsely claimed in an advert to have drafted government proposals for a compensation scheme which was about to go live.
The advert aimed to inform the victims of the laundries of the scheme. The laundries, the last of which only closed in 1996, were run by religious orders; workers were held against their will and worked without pay to literally wash away their sins – usually the ‘sin’ of having a child outside wedlock.
In a correction published yesterday, The Times said: “We accept that HJA’s advert did not make such a claim, far less was its advert dishonest, and we apologise for any suggestion to the contrary.
“We are also happy to confirm that the firm’s senior partner, Patrick Allen, did submit proposals to the Irish government in October 2011 on how a compensation scheme for former residents might operate following a request by the campaign group, Justice for Magdalenes, which had been invited by the Irish government to submit proposals on such a scheme.
“Moreover, at the time of HJA’s advert, the details of the scheme had not been decided upon. We acknowledge that Mr Allen and his firm campaigned for many years to obtain justice for the victims pro bono.”
In addition, the newspaper agreed to remove the online article immediately and all references to it from Times Online, pay damages by way of a donation to charity – the advice agency run by Sally Mulready and the Irish Women Survivors Network at the London Irish Centre to provide advice to Magdalene Laundry victims – and also contribute to HJA’s costs.
Leading media barrister Justin Rushbrooke QC of 5RB advised under a conditional fee agreement.
HJA started working on this issue in 2002, and has done so pro bono throughout. Mr Allen said: “I am pleased that this matter has been brought to a conclusion. I am only sorry that it has taken a year to sort it out.
“The article made serious accusations against me and Hodge Jones & Allen and which called into question our business methods and our integrity. These allegations were completely unfounded, as the settlement terms and the apology recognise.
“Meanwhile, we have been pressing on with helping laundry victims based in the UK to obtain their compensation from the new scheme. We are currently working with Sally Mulready and the London Irish Centre, assisting around 70 UK-based claimants to complete their claims and set up a PI trust to receive their damages where appropriate. We are also helping to sort out benefits and tax issues.
“The victims have waited many long years for this moment. Payments are at last flowing and the first claimants are actually receiving their compensation. An historic injustice has at last been corrected.”