Solicitor accepts “substantial damages” over Times libel

Miners: Article was wrong over action taken against solicitor

A solicitor whose political ambitions were derailed by a libellous article about his legal work for miners has accepted “substantial” damages from The Times.

Jerry Hague said “further legal action is ongoing to hold to account those involved in this disgraceful episode”.

Mr Hague was until 2008 a partner at Sheffield law firm Graysons, where he specialised in bringing industrial diseases claims on behalf of former miners and their families.

In December 2022, he was selected as the Labour Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Bolsover, where Dennis Skinner was MP for 49 years until he lost to the Conservatives in 2019.

A fortnight later, The Times ran an article headlined ‘Labour selects miners scandal lawyer’, alleging that Mr Hague had been found guilty of professional misconduct because he improperly deducted monies from compensation received by miners.

It further alleged that he admitted this and was fined £5,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). The article was later amended to state that he was reasonably suspected of such behaviour.

However, according to a statement read in open court yesterday, what actually happened was that Graysons was approached by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in Derbyshire to bring claims for its former members. Under their arrangement, a successful claimant who received above a certain amount in damages paid a deferred membership fee to the NUM of either £150 or £200, their membership having lapsed when they ceased working as miners.

Membership provided the claimant with a range of benefits, including legal representation, assistance in filling in forms, grants to dependants, support with claims for related benefits and assistance with funeral and other expenses where appropriate.

In 2010, the SDT found that Mr Hague and some of his fellow partners had failed to provide some of their clients “better information”. The lawyers admitted this charge; Mr Hague was fined £5,000.

There was no other finding against them and the SDT said Graysons did not “act in any way unethically in relation to the work it undertook”, had “provided a good high level of professional service to their clients” and that its failures “in a different context might well have been regarded as excusable”.

The court heard that Graysons did not charge success fees to union or privately funded claimants.

William Bennett KC, acting for Mr Hague, told the court that the articles had a “devastating” effect on his client.

“People would not believe that The Times had made false allegations against him. As a direct consequence of publication, he was given no alternative by the Labour Party but to resign from his candidacy.

“Mr Hague had previously informed the Labour Party of the ruling before the selection process. He resigned the same day as the publication.” Bolsover Labour has since named another candidate.

The Times has now agreed to pay Mr Hague “substantial damages in compensation and his legal costs”.

For The Times, Hannah Gilliland said the newspaper “sincerely apologises to Mr Hague for publishing the false allegations”.

In a statement, Mr Hague – who now works as co-ordinator of a local charity – argued that the article was “politically motivated”.

He continued: “I am pleased that the true picture has now been agreed with The Times. It has been a privilege to work with the Derbyshire NUM and others to provide valuable support for ex miners and their families over a period of years. I now look forward to continuing my support for communities I have worked with for over 35 years.

“Further legal action is ongoing to hold to account those involved in this disgraceful episode.”

He was represented under a conditional fee agreement by Patron Law.

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