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Hodge Jones & Allen wins second apology from The Times over incorrect MMR article

Law firm Hodge Jones & Allen LLP (HJA) has today received an apology and substantial compensation from The Times newspaper, following the publication in June this year of a front page article in which the newspaper claimed the firm was being sued by a former client for negligence in relation to a MMR vaccine claim.

This is the second time in six months that the firm has won an apology and damages from the newspaper for an article which was untrue. In April this year, the firm settled with the newspaper following an article in The Times concerning the firm’s contribution to compensation proposals for Magdalene laundries victims. The newspaper subsequently apologised, paid damages, which the firm elected to give to charity, and made a contribution to the firm’s costs.

In this case, HJA was forced to issue proceedings for libel and malicious falsehood after The Times refused to take down the article from its website or publish a correction. As part of the settlement a statement was read out in open court at the High Court today by HJA’s counsel Justin Rushbrooke QC. It states:

“The article stated that the Claimant was being sued by its former client Matthew McCafferty for substantial damages for negligence and ‘unjust enrichment as officers of the Court’ in relation to a claim relating to the MMR vaccine. This was incorrect. The Claimant was threatened with proceedings by Mr McCafferty’s lawyers, many years after it ceased to act for him, but no such proceedings have to date been issued. At the time of the article the Claimant had informed Mr McCafferty’s lawyers that any proceedings would be robustly defended. Furthermore it categorically rejects any suggestion that it was guilty of negligence, in particular the allegation that it pursued a case which it knew or should have known was hopeless, or that its lawyers improperly enriched themselves out of public funds.

“The true position is that in 1998 legal aid funding was granted to Hodge Jones & Allen for the purposes of investigating with experts a claim for damages on behalf of many children who were suffering from conditions such as autism following the administration of the MMR vaccine. Mr McCafferty instructed the Claimant in 2000 and had the benefit of these investigations. Whilst the possibility of a causal link between MMR and autism was subsequently widely discredited, on the basis of the expert evidence then available there was absolutely no reason to conclude at the time that such claims were hopeless.

The article also stated that the Claimant had lost the file for Mr McCafferty’s case, and suggested that it had failed to provide information that had been requested by his lawyers. In fact the Claimant had already provided a complete copy of all electronic documents on its case management system free of charge to Mr McCafferty’s lawyers. It has since managed to locate the original file of documents, and a copy of this has also been sent to those lawyers. Given the passage of time there was nothing untoward about the fact that the file could not be found initially.”

The Times’ counsel Clara Hamer concurred with the statement and apologised unreservedly in open court for any damage caused to HJA or to its reputation by the article.

Patrick Allen, senior partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, says: “Our success as a law firm depends on our skill, competence and integrity, so to have these called into question in such a high-profile manner was both disturbing and unacceptable. Naturally, I am pleased that this matter is now resolved but maintain that such an article should never have been published in the first place. It was particularly shocking that the article appeared on the front page, and only a matter of weeks after the settlement of our libel claim against the newspaper for the Magdalene Laundries article.”

The full statement can be found in the note to editors.

For further information, please contact:

Patrick Allen: 020 7874 8468, pallen@hja.net

Note to editors

About Hodge Jones & Allen

Patrick Allen, senior partner of Hodge Jones and Allen, founded the practice in 1977 with the intention of creating a law firm that served every corner of society and where client service meant excellent care and support. Those are still the principles that guide the firm today. HJA passionately believe that everyone who is subject to the law should have access to the law. The firm’s award-winning expertise in civil liberties, criminal law, medical negligence, housing and personal injury, not to mention its large family law team and wills, trusts and deputyship department makes HJA one of the most pre-eminent law firms in the UK today.

www.hja.net

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE CLAIM NO: HQ14DO3724

QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION

B E T W E E N:-

HODGE JONES AND ALLEN LLP

Claimant

– and –

TIMES NEWSPAPERS LIMITED

Defendant

____________________________

STATEMENT IN OPEN COURT

____________________________

Claimant’s counsel:

May it please your Lordship/Ladyship, in this action for libel and injurious falsehood I appear on behalf of the Claimant, Hodge Jones & Allen LLP. My learned friend Clara Hamer appears on behalf of the Defendant, Times Newspapers Limited.

The Claimant is a well-known firm of solicitors based in London. Amongst other areas of work it specialises in personal injury, medical and professional negligence, product liability and vaccine damage claims. The Claimant depends for its success on its reputation for skill, competence and integrity. It is widely-regarded as an ethical law firm that provides access to justice for clients who could not otherwise obtain it, and that puts the needs of its clients first.

On 26 June 2014 the Defendant published an article on the front page and page 4 of The Times under the headline “MMR families sue their legal aid lawyers”. The article was also published on the Defendant’s website.

The article stated that the Claimant was being sued by its former client Matthew McCafferty for substantial damages for negligence and ‘unjust enrichment as officers of the Court’ in relation to a claim relating to the MMR vaccine. This was incorrect. The Claimant was threatened with proceedings by Mr McCafferty’s lawyers, many years after it ceased to act for him, but no such proceedings have to date been issued. At the time of the article the Claimant had informed Mr McCafferty’s lawyers that any proceedings would be robustly defended. Furthermore it categorically rejects any suggestion that it was guilty of negligence, in particular the allegation that it pursued a case which it knew or should have known was hopeless, or that its lawyers improperly enriched themselves out of public funds.

The true position is that in 1998 legal aid funding was granted to Hodge Jones & Allen for the purposes of investigating with experts a claim for damages on behalf of many children 2 who were suffering from conditions such as autism following the administration of the MMR vaccine. Mr McCafferty instructed the Claimant in 2000 and had the benefit of these investigations. Whilst the possibility of a causal link between MMR and autism was subsequently widely discredited, on the basis of the expert evidence then available there was absolutely no reason to conclude at the time that such claims were hopeless.

The article also stated that the Claimant had lost the file for Mr McCafferty’s case, and suggested that it had failed to provide information that had been requested by his lawyers. In fact the Claimant had already provided a complete copy of all electronic documents on its case management system free of charge to Mr McCafferty’s lawyers. It has since managed to locate the original file of documents, and a copy of this has also been sent to those lawyers. Given the passage of time there was nothing untoward about the fact that the file could not be found initially.

My Lord, the Claimant complained immediately about the article. The Defendant denied liability and refused to take the article down from its website. In those circumstances, the Claimant brought these proceedings to vindicate its reputation. Its case in libel is that, amongst other things, the article meant that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that Hodge Jones & Allen was guilty of negligence and unjust enrichment in Mr McCafferty’s case.

The Defendant now accepts its error in publishing these false and damaging statements in its newspaper and on its website. It is here today by its representative to withdraw the allegations of which the Claimant has complained and to apologise publicly to the Claimant. It has also agreed to pay the Claimant a substantial sum by way of damages as well as its legal costs as part of the terms of settlement of the Claimant’s claim.

Defendant’s representative:

My Lord/Lady, on behalf of Times Newspapers Limited, I wish to associate myself with everything that has been said by Counsel for the Claimant. The Defendant does not have evidence which would establish that the allegations of which Hodge Jones & Allen has complained are true and wishes to apologise unreservedly for any damage caused to the Claimant or to its reputation by the article.

ENDS