Pensioner's battle with lawyers fails

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Home Affairs Correspondent

Peggy Wood, the elderly woman who lost everything when she was evicted from her cottage, yesterday failed in her mammoth battle for compensation from the legal profession.

The Court of Appeal dismissed her claim for damages against the Law Society, almost certainly bringing her 17-year-legal fight to a final conclusion.

Miss Wood, now 79 and living on benefit in a council bedsit, said after the hearing that she wanted to carry on fighting, but needed time to consider whether it would be possible to take the case to the House of Lords. But without legal aid, she had to rely on a team of barristers giving their services for free for yesterday's appeal.

The judges ruled that, although the society was "professionally incompetent" in its handling of her complaint about the solicitors' firm which sought her eviction in 1983, they upheld an earlier High Court ruling that the society was not responsible for the loss of her home.

The High Court had ruled that the real reason for her plight was that over a period of years, she could not satisfy her creditors and "the law took its inevitable course".

The saga goes back 22 years and centres on loans arranged for Miss Wood by the solicitors Hubbard and Co, of Chichester, West Sussex. She complained to the Law Society that the firm wrongly acted for both sides in the transactions. Further, she complained that Sylvia Hubbard, her solicitor, had failed to tell her one of the companies that loaned the money was part-owned by Joseph Hubbard, her husband and senior partner.

Miss Wood first complained to the society in 1979, but its professional purposes department declined to properly investigate until 10 years later when it finally issued a rebuke to Mrs Hubbard.

Yesterday, James Munby QC, for Miss Wood, argued that had the Law Society acted back in 1979, events may have taken a different course and that the failure had caused Miss Wood anxiety and distress.

But Lord Justice Leggatt said that the argument was "extravagant". A duty to investigate did not include a requirement that the complainant be given peace or mind or freedom from distress.