Law firm hit mother, 80, with pounds 12,000 death bill

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The Independent Online
An elderly widow was allegedly handed a bill for more than pounds 12,000 by the firm of solicitors her son worked for after they went to his house and found him dead, it emerged last night.

Irene Brierley, 80, of Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, was said to have been charged pounds 150 for being told her son, a solicitor, was dead and an extra pounds 300 for his firm to identify his body at the mortuary.

Searching his office to sort out affairs cost another pounds 750, and pounds 5,799 was charged for writing 172 letters and receiving 64. The total bill from the legal firm James Beauchamp of Edgbaston, Birmingham, came to pounds 12,278.16, it was claimed.

Mrs Brierley's son, Christopher Bryant, 54, was found hanged at his home in Bearwood, Birmingham, by a colleague in November, 1994. A verdict of death by suicide was later recorded at an inquest.

Speaking about the bill, Mrs Brierley said yesterday: "I don't think it was right. I was very sad at losing my son, a brilliant lawyer, like that."

A spokesman for Harfield-Pickering of Redditch, Worcestershire - the firm handling Mr Bryant's estate - confirmed that the bill has since been reduced to pounds 2,834.10. "The matter has been settled up on agreed terms with James Beauchamp," he said. The spokesman added that the Office of Supervision of Solicitors was contacted.

A spokeswoman for the OSS said: "We are here to investigate complaints about solicitors and we run a service that will look at charges and see if they are fair and reasonable. If necessary that may lead to us requiring a reduction in a solicitor's bill."

A James Beauchamp spokeswoman declined to comment.

Mr Bryant's sister, Melanie Weerdmeester, said: "He was a very well respected lawyer. He was unscrupulously honest, he was just a very, very fine professional."

Mrs Weerdmeester, 45, of Snitterfield, Warwickshire, added: "He was just totally honest and loved the law, that was his life. Unfortunately that's what happened, he was a workaholic who lived and breathed it. That's why this is so sad, that's what upset me."

Mr Bryant, who graduated with first class honours from an Oxford masters degree, was a former chairman of Moseley Rugby Club.

Mrs Weerdmeester, who described the bill as "preposterous", added that her brother had worked for the firm for 10 years. "We just want to get on with our lives. My mother has lost her first born son and I have lost my brother. We don't need all this on top."

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