CHAPTER 23 – THE LEGAL AID DEBACLE
We knew full well from the outset of each case that we would be at a major disadvantage in financial terms by taking Shell to Court as they had unlimited funds. We were almost always under financial pressure simply because we had invested so much in winning Shell’s business and had then had to invest a huge amount of time to fight for compensation when one after another the ideas were stolen from us. This had diverted us from other pursuits.
Even though our efforts were successful on the first three claims, we were not compensated for the time spent pursuing the claims, which took several years. It is true to say that we were not forced to sue Shell. We could have simply accepted that although we had been ripped off, it was not a sensible proposition to go up against one of the most powerful multinationals on the planet. I am afraid that neither my son nor I are made that way.
Readers should also know that the magnitude of the SMART claim was of an entirely different order to the previous claims, which had all been for short-term UK promotions. SMART was a long-term scheme, which Shell was introducing on an international basis in various guises. All of the proceeds from the previous settlements had been ploughed back into pursuing the SMART claim. Because our efforts were totally devoted to suing Shell, Don Marketing had effectively ceased trading pending the outcome of the litigation.
To raise more funds, I had to sell my house in Lakenheath, which I had owned for some 10 years. This was to cover the outstanding fees of our solicitors and John’s barristers. It is true to say that we would never have got as far as we did unless Richard Woodman had allowed us a great deal of latitude in paying his firms fees.
When our funds were completely depleted, John had to put his house up as security to his legal team in the form of a legally binding charge over the property. As we were completely out of funds, we were both then entitled to legal aid, the purpose of which is to provide a fair trial with equal force of arms on either side i.e. a level playing field. It is only available to individuals not companies.
We made separate applications through different solicitors. I went to a firm called Prettys who are based in Ipswich, Suffolk. This was done because Richard Woodman advised that we should be separately represented, as there was a potential clash of interests between my son and me.
Prettys calculated that my legal fees would come to £100,000 even though I was only involved in respect of the Counterclaim. I thought that it was nonsense but they said that the Legal Aid Board could reduce the sum if they decided that it was too high. The application was initially granted and then withdrawn. This was very puzzling at the time.
Prettys appealed and I was asked to appear before a legal aid panel in Cambridge made up mainly of lawyers. When the day came, the first question asked was why on earth were we asking for £100,000? The solicitor representing Prettys tried to explain, without any apparent success, the reasoning behind their calculation.
One of the bearded wonders on the panel said that as far as he could see, I had “nothing to lose”. My own war record, the fact that two of my brothers had also fought for Britain; that I worked in the civil service for 14 years, had employed thousands of people over the years and had always lived a blemish free life - none of that counted for anything. My dignity, my reputation, my health, my financial independence, was all of no account. It was no great surprise when we received notification that my appeal had been rejected. I was left in the unbelievable position at the age of 82 of having to personally defend myself in the High Court before a Judge and an array of high-powered barristers and solicitors acting for Shell.
I have become increasingly embittered about the ludicrous decision of the legal aid appeal panel after reading news reports of cases where aid was granted.
Some examples: -
(From a story published in “The Times” Newspaper 13th Dec 2000)
A police dog bit the bottom of Paul Ludford when Police went to his home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, making inquiries about reported threats that he had made to shoot a neighbour and also in connection with a theft. The suspect already had 28 convictions for crimes including violence, burglary and theft. Mr Ludford was granted legal aid to sue the North Yorkshire Police Chief Constable.
(From a story published in the Daily Express newspaper 5th April 2001)
Taxpayers are facing a £500,000 legal aid bill for a murderer who wants to start a family while in jail. Lifer Gavin Mellor, who beat to death a 74-year-old war hero, wants to donate sperm so that his wife can be artificially inseminated. Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust said: “I am almost lost for words at the way in which a criminal who cold-bloodedly murdered a 74-year-old man can have such a trivial whim funded in this way. It simply beggars belief…” A spokesman for the Legal Services Commission said: “We do not grant or refuse funding on the basis of the background and character of the person bringing the action”.
(From a story published in the Daily Mail newspaper on 6th April 2001)
David Stenning, jailed in 1994 for a series of sickening rapes, sued the Prison Service after he was held hostage be a fellow prisoner. Warders stormed the cell to free the sex fiend, but he decided to cash in by arguing they should have prevented the attack from happening. Stenning, 44, was awarded legal aid for his four-year legal battle, which ended at Newcastle County Court when Judge Peter Bullock ordered the Home Office to pay him £12,000 (despite the fact that The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority only recommends compensation of £11,000 for a rape victim).
(From a story published in The Daily Telegraph newspaper on 6th September 2001)
Convicted child-killer Shaun Armstrong jailed for life in 1995 for the abduction and murder of a three year old girl was granted legal aid to bring a civil action against Bernard O’Mahoney, who turned Armstrong in to the Police after receiving a letter from him confessing to the crime. The action is based on the grounds that O’Mahoney “breached Armstrong’s right to confidentiality and violated his privacy”.
(From a story published in The Daily Telegraph newspaper on 6th July 2002)
Brendan Fearon, a career criminal who has more than 30 convictions for burglary, violence and other offences, has been granted legal aid to sue a farmer Tony Martin, who during a burglary by Fearon and his gang at Martins secluded farmhouse, seriously wounded Fearon.
(From a story published in the Daily Mail newspaper on 14th May 2003 about the same individual, Brendan Fearon)
Tony Martin's heroin-dealing burglar, who's never done a day's work in his life, today sues the farmer for loss of earnings (and of course he's on legal aid). The serial burglar shot and wounded by Tony Martin will today launch an audacious claim for damages... Fearon 33, currently in jail for heroin dealing - will make the claim at Nottingham County Court today.
(From a story published in The SUN newspaper on 21st January 2004)
HOOK-HANDED Muslim fanatic Abu Hamza is STILL in Britain - exactly a year after The Sun called for him to be booted out. HIS VILE RANTS: "Bin Laden is a good guy. Everyone likes him in the Muslin world, there is nothing wrong with the man and his beliefs". Hamza on Islamic relationships with Westerners: "Crush his head in your arms, wring his throat, rip his intestines out. Forget wasting a bullet on them, cut them in half". And the ranting cleric, 46, is still sponging off taxpayers, costing them £1 MILLION in the past 12 months. WHAT HE COSTS YOU - £250.000 LEGAL BILLS. Last night Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "This is a man who backs terrorists, incites racial hatred and applauds acts of mass murder".
(A story published in The SUN newspaper on 17 February 2006)
Headline: "Killer given £1m legal aid as victim's family gets £47,000": Story: "STEPHEN OAKE'S murderer was granted nearly £1mlllion In legal aid to defend himself in court, it emerged yesterday. The £935,140 payout dwarfs the £47,000 In criminal Injuries compensation received by the Special Branch officer's widow and three children. Kamel Bourgass was jailed for life in June 2004 after being found guilty of murder and the attempted murder and wounding of four other officers. In a separate trial last year he was convicted of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance through the manufacture of ricin poison. The Department for Constitutional Affairs said Bourgass's legal aid bill for the first trial was £544,206 - with a further £390,934 for the second case. The bulk of the £935,140 went to Michel Massih, QC, who led Bourgass's defence team at the two Old Bailey trials. In sharp contrast, Lesley Oake and her three children received a mere £47,000 In criminal injuries compensation. Mrs Oake received the statutory £5,500 for her husband's death, while her children received £11,500, £13,500 and £16,500 each for their loss. The award was topped up by DC Oake's own life Insurance payout and the police's death-in-service award and pension."
What a crazy legal system. Personally I think that the legal aid appeal panel that decided my case should have been thoroughly ashamed for being such pompous uncaring pigs. They self-evidently did not give a fig for fair play and justice.
John’s legal aid application was turned down on the basis that he must have transferred the rights to the concept from the company to himself to deliberately put him in a position to qualify for legal aid. Since Richard Woodman knew that this was untrue (because the transfer was done at his suggestion to avoid a Security for Costs Application by Shell) John appealed against the decision. Richard Woodman went to the appeal hearing with him. They discovered that Shell had written to the Legal Aid Board pleading that the appeal should be turned down on the very basis that the Board had used. Nothing that Richard Woodman said could persuade them to change their decision.
On hearing about Shell’s letter, I realised that Shell almost certainly also managed to influence the legal aid decision in respect of my application, which was initially granted and then rescinded without proper explanation. I believe that Shell’s action in undermining a legitimate application for legal aid perverted the course of justice.
Prettys tried to go for a Judicial Review but gave up because the trial date arrived before they could get a hearing. Exactly the same thing happened to John, thus rendering us both of us at a massive disadvantage. Another consequence was that if we lost the case John and I would now be responsible for Shell’s costs as well as our own – a potential recipe for bankruptcy. If legal aid had been granted, this would not have applied. Hence Shell had succeeded in putting us under far greater pressure.
I have to admit that my nerves really got the better of me at this point. I had to seek medical help. The refusal of Legal Aid made be depressed, bitter and physically ill. The principle of a fair trial under English law with equal representation was thrown out of the window. Under all of these circumstances, the trial was destined to be a travesty of justice even before it got under way.
With no legal aid I had to deal on my own with Shell solicitors, DJ Freeman. My feelings towards them were not helped by the total disregard that they displayed for my advanced years. They actually stated in a letter that I was not entitled to any special consideration merely because of my age.
Shortly before the trial, I received a High Court Summons from D J Freeman issued on behalf of Shell. The first Summons I had received in my life. It ordered me to attend the Royal Courts of Justice regarding an “Unless Order” application by Shell requiring me to exchange Witness Statements within 7 Days. I was by this time distraught by events but I went to the hearing and explained to Master Bowman that I had heard nothing from DJ Freeman on the subject of exchanging Witness Statements since the day several months earlier when the timetable was set for bringing the matters to trial. I also pointed out that I had my Witness Statement with me. Jane MacCarthy, a hard faced lady, was present to represent DJ Freeman but she was unwilling to exchange Witness Statements. Probably because of this Shell failed in their attempt to have costs awarded against me for the hearing.
It must have been clear to Jane MacCarthy from my faltering performance that embarrassed all present, including Master Bowman (and myself) that I was in an almost incoherent mental state. I would speculate that Richard Woodman must have thought that this had only confirmed what he had already concluded a long time before – that I was a crazy old man who was often a bad influence on John because I took a hard-line view about Shell.
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