From The Sunday Times August 31, 2008 Law firm in loans probe. Iain Dey. AN EMINENT West Country law firm is at the centre of a probe by the legal watchdog into allegations that sub-prime loans may have been mis-sold to farmers. Burgess Salmon, which writes the textbook on English agricultural law, is being investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) after complaints made by at least two of its former clients. While advising the farmers on sub-prime loans, the law firm was acting for both the borrower and the UK Group, a specialist agricultural lender. The farmers claim that they could have secured financing elsewhere, but were encouraged to use the UK Group, which offered loans at interest rates of 20% or more. The SRA is investigating allegations related to conflicts of interest and negligent advice. Burgess Salmon has denied the claims. Although some of the allegations have stood for more than two years, farms are now being repossessed and a number of MPs have taken up the case.
A cross-party group led by Conservative John Greenway has written to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to demand a full investigation into the claims. George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, and Michael Howard, the former Conservative party leader, are among the MPs involved in the campaign, along with the Liberal Democrat MPs Nick Harvey and Dan Rogerson.
Geoff Bean, whose pedigree dairy herd was sold off by administrators this summer, said: â€œIâ€™ve been ruined, my familyâ€™s heritage has been ruined and my 20-year-old sonâ€™s future has been ruined. I have been scared to speak up, but I will fight this to the end.â€
Bean is now fighting eviction from his farm in North Yorkshire. The other known complaint to the SRA came from advisers acting for Pamela Ward-Jones of Barnhorne Manor Farm in East Sussex.
Edwin Coe, the law firm that sued the government over the collapse of Railtrack, is acting for both complainants.
Peter Williams, a partner at Burgess Salmon, said: â€œBoth of those former clients of Burgess Salmon have made complaints to the SRA, which are currently being investigated.
â€œUntil that investigation is complete and we have received the SRAâ€™s determination, it would be wholly inappropriate for us to comment.â€End.
Burgess Salmon is connected with Common Purpose via Senior Partner GUY STOBART, who is Chairman of COMMON PURPOSE ADVISORY GROUP BRISTOL.