A legal aid firm facing a professional negligence claim for pursuing compensation over the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine has denied suggestions that the case was always a hopeless cause.

London-based Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA) issued a statement today denying any wrongdoing over the way it handled claims on behalf of people who had received the MMR vaccine in the 1990s.

At the time, allegations were made that the vaccine caused autism and other conditions. The link has since been disproved.

HJA was one of a number of firms that pursued group actions, with legal proceedings thought to have received around £15m in legal aid.

But the firm denies the claims of a former client, Matthew McCafferty, that it raised false hopes of winning a case that had no chance of succeeding.

McCafferty, now 23, developed autism three years after receiving the vaccine, and is now pursuing a professional negligence claim through Manchester firm Carter Moore.

The statement from HJA said the suggestion that the firm took legal aid funds to investigate the case knowing it was hopeless is ‘completely untrue’.

It added: ‘At the time, there was a strongly held belief that MMR caused autism in some children.

‘A link between the vaccine and autism was strongly asserted by the families and Dr [Andrew] Wakefield (pictured) and in view of the large number of cases and the seriousness of the condition, it was appropriate for investigations to be carried out.

‘Whilst the ‘link’ has now been widely discredited, there is no reason for HJA to have considered at the time that the claim was without merit or hopeless.’

HJS said proceedings were issued in 2002 – a year before legal aid funding was withdrawn – to protect McCafferty's claim as there was a 10-year limitation period.

Mike Shaw, director of Carter Moore, said increasing numbers of former MMR litigants are coming forward to claim their cases never stood a chance of succeeding.

In a press release widely circulated earlier this week, Shaw said: ‘The original MMR vaccine litigation was supposed to be worth billions in compensation, not just millions – but it cost a million in legal aid and there was also a personal cost for the families involved. 

‘All the raised hopes and expectations, driven by the media frenzy based on an unsubstantiated health scare and junk science – [and] not one penny in compensation for any child.’