Partner lied to client while doing nothing on her claim for 17 years

Slater & Gordon: Referred solicitor to SRA

A former partner at Slater & Gordon (S&G) who deceived a client for 17 years about the progress on her claim – when in fact he did nothing on it for all that time – has been struck off.

Nicholas Giles Collins even told his client that she had been awarded damages of £360,000 when she had not been and created various false documents as part of his dishonesty, including notes of court hearings that never happened.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal struck him off after approving a statement of agreed facts and outcome between the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Mr Collins, in which he did not seek to excuse or explain his behaviour.

Mr Collins, who qualified in 1995, was an associate solicitor at what was then Russell Jones & Walker when he started acting for ‘EH’ and subsequently a principal lawyer (partner) at Slater & Gordon until he resigned in December 2021 during the course of disciplinary proceedings over his conduct of the case.

EH had a claim against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) under a compensation scheme for employees suffering upper-limb disorders such as repetitive strain injuries. This was only for staff who used Russell Jones & Walker, EH’s union’s solicitors.

EH was offered £30,000 in 2002 but she sought a higher sum following her retirement in 2003 on the grounds of ill health. Mr Collins took over conduct of her claim around March 2004

The statement of facts said that, over the next 17 years, he made “numerous misleading statements to EH about the progress of her claim”.

This included that, in March 2013, instructed counsel had valued her claim at £245,000; that in August 2014 her claim had been finalised, following the award of interest by the courts, at £360,136; and that, following unsuccessful appeals by HMRC against the interest awarded, he had begun enforcement proceedings of a court order.

Among the fake documents he provided to EH to substantiate his statements were submissions to counsel, notes of court hearings and a third-party debt order application which referred to 2013 judgments from Cardiff County Court.

The statement said: “The respondent had in fact never made any contact with EH’s employers, she had never been awarded any damages and he had never sought enforcement of them.

“The respondent had not instructed counsel and there had never been any court hearings in respect of EH’s claim. The respondent had not taken any substantive step to progress EH’s claim.”

In 2020, EH contacted her local MP, Mel Stride, as she believed HMRC was refusing or delaying payment.

HMRC contacted the solicitor for help in locating details of the claim, but eventually wrote to Mr Stride to say: “Although Mr Collins has given us a number of documents, none of these support EH’s assertion that we owe her money or quantifies that sum. Until we receive this evidence, we cannot progress EH’’s case.”

EH then complained to S&G, at which point Mr Collins did not admit the true position. She also contacted Cardiff County Court, which had no record of her claim.

In November 2021, Mr Collins admitted at an internal meeting what he had done. An investigation showed that he had closed down the matter on the firm’s case management systems so that it would not be listed on any active case reports.

The tribunal heard that S&G continued to act for EH after Mr Collins resigned, having reported him to the regulator, but last year HMRC said it was no longer prepared to deal with the claim under the original scheme and that EH would have to bring a civil claim.

The statement said such a claim was “technically out of time” and it was understood that she has not pursued it. S&G stopped acting for her in 2023 due to a potential conflict of interest.

EH’s witness statement said she was left only with a possible negligence action against the firm, “which would mean having to trust another firm of solicitors and having the continuing stress and expense of legal action in order to bring about a resolution to my claim”.

EH added: “My compensation case has dominated most of my life. I was 24 when my case started and currently my claim is in its 26th year without no resolution in sight.”

She also said that being told of the award in 2013 contributed to her husband’s decision to take early retirement.

“This has impacted me greatly, it has affected me financially. If the claim had been sorted quickly as it should have been, then my husband and I would’ve been able to use that money for our retirement. It makes me very angry. I feel like I have been conned…

“I do not know why Mr Collins would do this to me, why he would string me along all these years. At any time over the last 19 years, he could have owned up but even now after he has been caught out he has not acknowledged or apologised for his dishonesty.”

In mitigation, the tribunal acknowledged that Mr Collins had admitted his misconduct and had a previously unblemished record. Given the dishonesty and lack of integrity he displayed, he was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £6,316.

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