Farmers shocked by inadequacy of SRA’s Burges Salmon “inquiry”

September 23rd, 2010

(Updated October 2nd, 2010)

Talk about foot-dragging.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has been investigating the Bristol-based law firm Burges Salmon LLP and its partner Peter Williams for more than three years over the alleged misselling of unregulated commercial loans to cash-strapped farmers. The loans, often priced at usurious annual interest rates of 22% or more, have financially crippled many farmers across the UK, causing several to commit suicide.

Joanna Osborne, a partner at law firm Edwin Coe initially acting for the farmers, has said Burges Salmon’s advice had resulted in “expensive and inappropriate loans being taken from institutions, leading to substantial liabilities”. Osborne represented Geoff and Joyce Bean from Yorkshire, and Pamela Ward-Jones, from East Sussex, but said many farmers were in similar predicaments.

One might have thought that the SRA, a quasi-independent subsidiary of the Law Society of England & Wales, would have reached a conclusion by now.

The conflicts of interest involved are clear cut. As well as advising farmers to take out the usurious loans — which were provided by by Commercial First via UK Group subsidiary UK Farm Finance — Burges Salmon , according to Iain Dey in The Sunday Times, also had UK Group as a client!

Geoff Bean, a farmer from Kirkbymoorside in Yorkshire, one of the many victims of the scandal, is growing increasingly exasperated by the SRA’s wilful blindness to the potential fraud and conflict of interest that are so clearly involved in this matter. He suspects the SRA wants to protect errant solicitors by effectively kicking the whole scandal into the long grass — a common tactic where professions are trusted to regulate themselves.

Bean has written to his MP, Anne McIntosh, to express his dismay about the SRA’s handling of the inquiry. In the letter he invited McIntosh to urge the SRA and/or Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clark, to provide some answers as to when the inquiry can be expected to be completed and the most likely way forward. Bean wrote:-

“The SRA has proved to be unfit for purpose and remains oblivious to the ongoing and ever-escalating suffering caused by this deliberate and calculated destruction of the livelihoods and homes … of innocent and trusting victims over 20 years… It still appears to be the dedicated determination of the SRA to protect and defend [Burges Salmon and its partner Peter Williams] in spite of the overwhelming, ever-increasing and widespread evidence against [them.]

However McIntosh made clear she has no intention of doing anything to help. Bean suspects this is related to McIntosh’s former career as a lawyer and Scottish advocate. He suspects that she is prioritizing the protection of the legal profession over and above ensuring constituents are treated honourably and fairly. Bean points out that McIntosh’s reluctance to intervene on behalf of the many farmers rendered destitute by this scandal is in sharp contrast to the approach taken by her predecessor, and fellow Tory, John Greenway MP.

Of course Burges Salmon — whose former partner Roger Hawes is a close friend of David Mills and a director of the suspected fraudster and money launderer’s “serially-phoenixed” office products group, Concord Filing Products — will have told the SRA it has done nothing wrong. That doesn’t mean the SRA should automatically believe it.

This farmers’ loan scandal is the sort of thing to which business secretary Vince Cable was referring when he told the Liberal Democrat conference that he wants to “shine a harsh light into the murky world of corporate behaviour.” If the SRA is to have continued legitimacy,  it ought to be taking this scandal more seriously. Otherwise, I suspect it won’t be long before Vince’s floodlight starts shining harshly its way…

In an article published in the Solicitors Journal on September 29th, the SRA blamed its tardiness on the fact it had “trolley loads” of files to work through.

Note: Desmond Phillips’ new company is called UK Acorn Finance

Here’s what the Mail on Sunday had to say about the Burges Salmon / UK Farm Finance scandal two years ago:-

Lawyers and financiers face probe over expensive loans

Published: The Mail on Sunday

By: Simon Fluendy

Date: September 7th, 2008

ON THE BRINK: Farmer Pamela Ward-Jones fears that costly financial deals may ruin her

A leading firm of lawyers and a financial group that lends money to cash-strapped farmers face investigation after a cross-party coalition of rural MPs complained that land owners were being driven to the wall by expensive loans.

Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon, told Financial Mail he was ‘extremely concerned’ after hearing how one constituent saw debts soar to £3 million while doing business with the firms.

Legal firm Burges Salmon of Bristol, where partner Peter Williams is an agricultural law expert, is under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority after a detective with Avon and Somerset Police handed over a file detailing Williams’ dealings with financier Des Phillips. Phillips’ firms have lent money to farmers advised by Burges Salmon.

The loans – which count as commercial deals rather than mortgages regulated by the Financial Services Authority – carry interest rates of as much as 22 per cent. Loans can have huge arrangement fees and high payments for redemption.

Customers say Burges Salmon has previously failed to disclose that it also acts for Phillips’ loan firms such as UK Farm Finance.

East Sussex farmer Pamela Ward-Jones, 87, said that Burges Salmon and the Phillips group were poised to ruin her. “I was in trouble and went to them for help, but I am being finished off,” she said.

Williams did not respond to questions emailed to him.

Short URL: https://www.ianfraser.org/?p=1893

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3 Comments for “Farmers shocked by inadequacy of SRA’s Burges Salmon “inquiry””

  1. It seems our green and pleasant land has more than one blot on the landscape. The cancerous spread of financial leeches can be found in every sector of industry, enterprise and even in fields of wheat or cabbages. These locusts would like to see the whole country stripped bare of anything wholesome.

    I hope Dr Cable is keeping an eye on this story and I hope Pamela Ward-Jones is as good as her word – she says she will keep going until she beats these crooks. But at 87, she shouldn’t have to be living under this terrible stress and we should have the kind of regulation in place to take on the fight for her.

    It’s a sorry state of affairs when shame has been completely submerged by greed. And, as with the HBOS Reading case, these evil acts to steel people’s assets and make them homeless, could not happen without the full co-operation of lawyers. Shame on you Burges Salmon.

  2. When is the outcome of all this utter bewilderment being publish and heard by the courts?

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