A solicitor who sent misleading letters to tour operators during a boom in holiday sickness claims has been suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay costs of £21,000.
Mark John Hughes Walker admitted to sending letters to holiday companies on behalf of - or purportedly on behalf of - clients containing incorrect and misleading information. The letters related to holiday sickness and did not reflect the instructions received by the firm.
Walker, admitted in 1992, also admitted that he was responsible for developing a case management system for holiday sickness claims which generated letters of claim purportedly reflecting information received from clients and to breaching accounts rules.
The tribunal found that Walker had ‘expanded his firm too quickly and had taken shortcuts in the way he managed the claims’ and had lacked integrity. The misconduct occurred when Walker was a solicitor and manager at Hughes Walker Solicitors Limited. At the material time he was also compliance officer for legal practice and compliance officer for finance and administration.
According to the statement of agreed facts, a significant part of the firm’s practice involved bringing claims against airlines, seeking compensation for delays to flights. However, in around 2015, Walker began handling sickness claims by individuals against holiday operators.
Walker developed a website designed to attract and engage clients. The website told users: ‘If you have suffered food poisoning whilst on an all-inclusive holiday, fill in your details using our secure portal online and we will begin working on your claim.’ Walker also developed a case management system which generated automated letters to operators expressing an intention to being a claim.
In mitigation, Walker submitted that ‘holiday sickness claims were a new line of business for the firm and dealing with them placed strains on the firm’s infrastructure. As the firm itself acquired more knowledge and experience handling this new line of work, the firm evolved its procedures and systems’.
He added that he had not intended for the letters to mislead and he believed he acted honestly. Walker also stressed his ‘unblemished legal career going back 25 years’.
The tribunal concluded the matters were 'too serious for a fine or a reprimand to be appropriate, having regard to the fact that the respondent had acted recklessly and lacked integrity’. Walker was suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay £21,000 in costs. Walker has voluntarily ceased practice as a solicitor.