Thousands of former miners in Salford and their families could be up for windfalls of up to £25,000 after being shortchanged twice by different law firms over compensation.
Miners who used to work at the former Agecroft Colliery in Salford are said to be among those affected.
Big law firms got rich on claims from injured pitmen representing them for a host of industrial disorders such as Vibration White Finger (VWF).
VWF is just one condition suffered by men who worked at collieries. It affects the blood vessels, nerves, muscles, in the hand, wrist and arm.
Sufferers have permanent debilitating joint and muscle damage caused by working with vibrating hand-held machinery.
But after legal practices were exposed for withholding cash the miners signed up with new companies to help them recover the compensation owed.
In a cruel twist of fate it has emerged some of these other firms have also left miners thousands of pounds out of pocket by failing to properly investigate their claims.
Salford miner Paul Kelly worked down the Parsonage colliery in Leigh straight out of school for his first main job.
He later made a successful claim for VWF having also later worked at the Agecroft colliery in Salford.
And although his claim was dealt with fairly he says other miners were not so lucky and says they and their families had been robbed of their future.
He said: “This is an absolute despicable.
“I know other miners and families that will be affected and it is a real kick in the teeth. It’s not about the money it is about the principle.
“The lads should have been properly compensated and they were not looked after. I was lucky – I used a small firm who were related to miners but others signed up with firms that just wanted to make money.
“Miners like me gave everything for the job and then this is how they are treated it is a disgrace. Many of them started out with nothing and have since died and a little bit of extra money would have helped those left behind. They have been ripped off and it is not right.”
Paul – who is unable to work due to crippling arthritis in his joints and breathing difficulties – spends his spare time helping out the homeless with voluntary work.
The 55-year-old added: “Miners are the most humble people and them and their families don’t deserve to be treated in this way.
“Proper compensation should be a right for doing such a dangerous job not a way for others to make a quick buck. It is wrong that these people can make huge profits from us and do a bad job.
“While these firms were taking huge chunks out of our compensation, we were being forced to live everyday with the health effects of working down the pits with very little support.
The scandal was uncovered by professional negligence expert Robert Godfrey, a partner at Stretford based Simpson Millar solicitors, who has now set up a specialist unit to help ripped-off miners and their families.
He said: “These miners have been let down from start to finish. It’s scandalous that people can be treated in such a way.
“These were hardworking men who should have been looked after not taken advantage of.
“We estimate there are thousands of Salford and North West miners out there who have been shortchanged.
“For solicitors and claims firms to be paid for doing a bad job is disgraceful.
“These clients have then been passed on from one firm to another like a piece of meat without their understanding, and without their written consent. And all the while they continue to suffer conditions that hamper their everyday life.”
Under a 1999 Labour government coal miners compensation scheme over 170,000 coal miners are believed to have been paid compensation for the condition Vibration White Finger suffered at work.
A large number of former miners suffered injuries working in mines including Agecroft Colliery in Salford and Parsonage colliery in Leigh and later made compensation claims.
Robert Godfrey of Simpson Millar said many ex-miners had been under-compensated for the ‘services’ they could no longer provide for their families, such as gardening, car-washing, window-cleaning and DIY and also loss of earnings.
Individual claims range from a few thousand pounds up to £25,000 for younger victims, who would receive the annual payment for longer.
Robert added: “It is clear from speaking with miners that they didn’t understand the compensation scheme. They received little advice and few of these clients ever saw their legal representative.
Law firm Raleys – who reportedly handled over £77m in claims from injured miners on behalf of the National Union of Miners – collapsed earlier this year and were placed into administration.
They face a rash of professional negligence claims from miners for mishandling their original claims.
The NUM has since severed ties with the Yorkshire legal practice.
The miners compensation scheme has been the most expensive in British history with the lawyers receiving more money than the miners for whose benefit it was established.
Alec McFadden, a TUC North union boss who also helps run the Salford Unemployment and Community Resource Centre in Eccles, urged miners and their families to take immediate action.
He said: “This is an absolute disgrace. To be let down once is bad enough but twice is unforgivable.
“A number of solicitors and claim companies who handled thousands of miners’ cases held themselves up as being experts.
“It is therefore not unreasonable for the miners and their families to fully trust them and expect them to secure the full level of compensation on their behalf.
“Many of the miners are now very old and some will have died.
“What is required is a quick and easy scheme so that every living miner with a legitimate claim is now properly compensated.
“I would urge any miners or their surviving families to contact the new unit.”