Birmingham Six scientist sues law firm

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The Independent Online

Legal Affairs Correspondent

Frank Skuse, the forensic scientist whose evidence helped convict the Birmingham Six, has been granted legal aid to fund a six-figure damages claim against his former solicitors, Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners.

His claim is for compensation for errors he alleges the firm made when he sued Granada Television for libel over a 1986 documentary on the Birmingham Six. That World In Action programme had examined his tests for explosives on the hands of three of the six, and questioned his abilities as a scientist.

His present solicitors, J Keith Park and Co, have retained the leading QC Anthony Scrivener to represent Dr Skuse. They are seeking the return, with interest, of the pounds 156,000 fees Dr Skuse, now retired, paid the firm on account before he pulled out of the seven-year action against Granada. Both sides paid their own costs. He also wants a large sum to replace the damages he believes he would have won in a successful libel action.

Carter-Ruck and Partners issued a writ against Dr Skuse last spring for payment of the pounds 131,625 outstanding on its bill. Dr Skuse's action is a defence and counter-claim. The firm has been involved in many high- profile cases over the years. In 1988, one of its clients, Winston Churchill MP, won substantial damages from the Observer over allegations that he had been involved with plots against the Labour government in the 1960s. Four years ago, the firm charged the then Chancellor, Norman Lamont, pounds 23,000 to evict a sex therapist from his home, and to issue warnings to the press. It represented Bill Roache, the Coronation Street actor, who won pounds 50,000 from the Sun after it described him as boring. The paper had paid the same sum into court, so he had to pay his own costs.

Last month, it represented David Ashby, the Conservative MP who unsuccessfully sued the Sunday Times.