Statement 12: Report, Brian Ashworth and The Orchard Centre: Part One

Statement 12: Report, Brian Ashworth and The Orchard Centre, February 2008: Part One


The authors of the statement below, Suzy Chapman and Ciaran Farrell, would like to draw readers’ attention to the following: that the statement below constitutes our own original work based upon our own researches into the matters contained within the statement. It is through our own evidence based research that we have elicited and identified the facts contained within this statement and the analysis, deductions and conclusions expressed within this statement, together with any opinions expressed, are entirely our own and based solely and wholly upon our own research. The statement below is the responsibility of the authors and is published by us and is not intended as a substitute for any official statement from any official body whatsoever. If readers wish to establish the progress of any enquiry or investigation conducted by the various bodies and authorities referred to in this statement they should contact the body or authority concerned. The authors have no affiliations or connections with Wolverhampton Trading Standards or with any other agency, organisation or individual who may also have an interest in the subjects of our statement or the material contained therein.

Two previous statements, Statement 10 and Statement 11, and additional information can be read here

Part One
Bilston Resource Centre
Complaint to the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner
“Law degrees” and the continued use of “LLB”
New cases brought to our attention over the past year
Part Two
“Class actions” and “the barrister in London”
The finance of class actions
Evidence of gross misrepresentation
Contact details for Trading Standards
How can you help us?
Part Three
Contacting organisations who have referred on to Mr Ashworth
Regional ME/CFS support organisations
Leger M.E.
National ME/CFS patient organisations
Local issues
Change of contact details for The Orchard Centre
Contact details for Suzy Chapman & Ciaran Farrell

Part One

In order to protect the confidentiality of our contacts and in order not to complicate the endeavours of certain agencies and organisations, which places a responsibility on us not to discuss individual cases or disclose certain factual information concerning specific, sensitive developments, we are therefore limited in what we can say. We can therefore only report on the general nature and trend of events over the past twelve months and analyse them in general terms.

When we issued our last update, in October 2006, we reported that Mr Ashworth had made commitments to Trading Standards, first in August 2005 and again in September 2006, that he was ceasing to operate. We have learned in both instances that he was in fact undertaking advocacy and representation work in various areas of advice and service provision. He was even carrying out regular advocacy and advice sessions held within a local resource centre, in some cases drawing on that centre’s own clientele.

We had predicted that rather than close his operation down, Mr Ashworth would continue to take on new clients whilst leaving existing clients’ casework unresolved or abandoned. We had also anticipated that he would seek out new fields of work in which to operate. These concerns have been borne out by information gathered by us over the past twelve months.

 

Bilston Resource Centre

A 2006 Wolverhampton City Council grants committee report describes the Bilston Resource Centre as providing:

“…accredited Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) as well as training in computing and basic skills including ESOL (English for speakers of Other Languages) to the disadvantaged community living in and around the Bilston area.”

In September, last year, we were contacted by the Manager of Bilston Resource Centre, Mr Simon Bhardwaj, to discuss the situation which had arisen within his centre in relation to Mr Ashworth and his work at the centre.

On behalf of the Trustees/Directors of Bilston Resource Centre, Mr Bhardwaj has provided us with the following statement for publication in this February 2008 update:

From August 2006 to February 2007, Mr Brian Ashworth had an arrangement with us whereby he undertook advocacy work from our premises, delivering advice and services in a personal capacity, under the name of The Orchard Centre to individual clients, some of whom were also clients of the Resource Centre.

Unfortunately, a number of Mr Ashworth’s clients reported to us that they were experiencing problems with the service he was providing. As part of our quality standards we took these complaints very seriously and established that the quality of service being provided by Mr Ashworth, in some cases, had not been of an acceptable standard.

In early 2007, following discussions with the Trustees/Directors, it was agreed that Mr Ashworth’s arrangement with our organisation should be terminated. Bilston Resource Centre no longer has any association with Mr Ashworth.

Some of the complainants took the problems they had encountered and discussed them with Wolverhampton Trading Standards.

Mr Simon Bhardwaj
Manager, Bilston Resource Centre
Date 17th Dec 07

 

Complaint to the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner

During the last three years, Mr Ashworth is known to have undertaken to carry out asylum and immigration casework. We established with the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), in September ’06, that Mr Ashworth was not on the OISC’s register.

The Asylum and Immigration Acts 1999 and 2001 prohibit anyone from providing asylum and immigration advice and services, whether on a for-profit or a not-for-profit basis, above strictly designated levels, unless qualified and/or registered to do so. An organisation may be granted exemption from having to pay registration fees to the OISC as a not for-profit organisation, but there is no exemption from undergoing the OISC registration process, which is mandatory.

The OISC registration application procedures are rigorous and every successfully registered or exempt advice agency eg a Law Centre, is required to display a certificate of approval issued by the OISC at its premises to show that it is registered under the Act for the provision of immigration advice and services, that it meets OISC standards of fitness and competence and that it is regulated by them.

We have established that Mr Ashworth is not a solicitor, barrister, or legal executive or a retired member of the legal profession, and that he does not in fact have a law degree. Therefore, he cannot practice law as a legal professional or a lawyer, either as an independent practitioner of law or through one or more of the twenty “Trading As” names he is known to have established for himself and his activities.

The OISC has confirmed that Mr Ashworth is not registered for the provision of immigration and asylum advice and services at any level of service provision under either their for-profit or their not-for-profit registration scheme.

It is our understanding that Mr Ashworth has undertaken immigration and asylum casework up to and including appeals on the basis that he is some kind of lawyer, or retired lawyer who by virtue of his presumed legal qualifications and training enables him to competently undertake the work of a trained, qualified and OISC registered practitioner within a legal practice.

We considered, therefore, that Mr Ashworth was not a fit or competent person to be operating in any field of representation or advocacy or providing advice or services at any level, and that in undertaking immigration and asylum casework without having first registered with the OISC, Mr Ashworth may be in breach of the Immigration and Asylum Acts 1999 and 2001.

In October ’06, we submitted a formal written complaint to the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner which included additional supportive material and documentary evidence. We do not have the authority of the OISC to discuss the outcome of our complaint or any other complaints which may have been lodged with the OISC.

 

“Law degrees” and the continued use of “LLB”

We have been able to establish that Mr Ashworth does not hold a Bachelor of Law degree (LLB).

In some cases, Mr Ashworth’s clients will have paid him money in the form of fees, however nominal, or for administration expenses for him to undertake services for them or will have appointed him to represent them at appeals tribunals or to represent them in forthcoming court cases. This has usually been done on the basis that they had initially understood him to be a “lawyer” or “a barrister” or “a retired barrister” and in the expectation of a certain level of legal expertise and professional qualifications. Some of Mr Ashworth’s clients reported to us that they had been referred to him by others, or by organisations from whom they had sought advice or assistance, on this understanding.

Some clients will have signed “Form of Authority” documents authorising Mr Ashworth to act on their behalf and giving him authority to obtain and hold files, documents and reports, including medical notes and DLA appeal tribunal document bundles and to liaise directly with specific agencies involved in their cases and with “any other statutory, voluntary, private and public body that has dealings with [the client]” on the understanding that he held an “LLB” or was some kind of “lawyer”.

The Law Society has confirmed that Mr Ashworth is not, nor ever has been, a qualified and practising solicitor, barrister, or legal executive or in training to become a solicitor, barrister, legal executive or any kind of legal professional and that he is not on any Law Society Register. Similarly, Mr Ashworth is not registered with the Bar Council or the Institute of Legal Executives, and these professional bodies likewise confirm that Mr Ashworth cannot practice law as any kind of lawyer or legal professional.

It is an offence under the Solicitors Act 1974 to “hold out” as a barrister or a solicitor which in essence is to claim or to give the impression that one has professional qualifications and a professional status that one does not in fact have. In addition, the offence of “holding out” is also committed if an unqualified and unregistered individual undertakes work that is the professional preserve of registered legal professionals which under the legislation is reserved for legal professionals only.

Use of “LLB”

We were provided with documentary evidence, last year, showing that Mr Ashworth was still using the letters “LLB” after his name, as recently as 2007, on letterheads associated with some new cases.

In relation to Mr Ashworth’s alleged law degree, he has been claiming, variously, for a number of years, to hold a law degree or that he has been studying for a law degree. We hold recent documentary evidence showing that the letters “LLB” appear and disappear from the printed footers of the letterheads and “Form of Authority” documents which Mr Ashworth has drawn up for himself for his clients to complete and sign and which he runs off from his own computer and printer. Alternatively, but not exclusively, Mr Ashworth may print off a letterhead which has the letters “LLB” appended to his name directly beneath his signature.

We also hold on file documentary evidence of a poor quality “epidemiological research proposal” dating from 2003, drawn up by Mr and Mrs Ashworth in the name of The Orchard Centre, in which they are seeking funding of £48,500. A “Personal Background” included in this document refers to Mr Ashworth as having “recently completed his studies for a degree in Law”.

Mr Ashworth had been challenged by a client in 2002 over his use of the letters “LLB” on correspondence and had admitted, then, that he did not in fact hold a degree in law nor had he been studying a degree level course in law. He subsequently dropped all further use of “LLB” on the letterheads he was printing off for use in correspondence relating to this particular client’s casework. But the use of “LLB” reappears on some letterheads in 2003.

On 4 January 2006, Mr Ashworth appeared before Wolverhampton Magistrates Court on a charge of kerb crawling. Wolverhampton Express and Star’s crime reporter, who was present in court on the day to cover the trial, reported that Mr Ashworth held a law degree. The newspaper has since confirmed to us that it was the case that Mr Ashworth had made this claim before the Magistrate, during his trial. There is therefore an issue as to whether Mr Ashworth perjured himself before the Magistrate.

Last year, Mr Ashworth was also claiming, variously, that he already holds, or that he was about to be awarded a “PhD”. We hold documentary evidence, dating from 1994, of Mr and Mrs Ashworth both using “PhD” after their names at the foot of Orchard ME Centre letterheads. These matching PhDs were subsequently dropped from their letterheads after Mr Ashworth was challenged over their authenticity.

 

New cases brought to our attention over the past year or so

In the last year or so, more than a dozen of Mr Ashworth’s clients have approached us directly, from all over the country, including some who had seen Mr Ashworth when he was working out of the Bilston Resource Centre.

A number of these were new cases taken on by Mr Ashworth within the last eighteen months or so. Some of this work had been undertaken under the “Trading As” name of The Orchard Centre but other clients had paperwork and letterheads using the operating name, B & J Legal Services.

Several of the new cases involved children’s issues – representation in complex Family Court casework, education related casework or casework where social services had become involved with families. Other cases dated back quite a number of years and most of these individuals were experiencing similar difficulties with Mr Ashworth, in that their benefits appeals cases had become bogged down and Mr Ashworth had been obfuscatory over the exact status of their appeals. He had not provided these clients with any official paperwork which would substantiate the various claims he was making. In some cases, in our view, these excuses became increasingly bizarre, including claims that his computer had been hacked into and that correspondence had been altered.

Not only had there been serious concerns about the handling of these cases and in relation to misrepresentation but also examples of very unprofessional practices. Some of these contacts had already discussed Mr Ashworth’s modus operandi with the police and others had already spoken to their local Trading Standards, CAB and to other agencies and organisations before approaching us – others have since spoken to Trading Standards about misrepresentation and the chaos Mr Ashworth has left their cases in.

More than one female client reported to us that Mr Ashworth’s behaviour towards them had, on occasions, transgressed the boundaries of behaviour expected from a male representative in the company of a female client, and we had had other similar reports to these in the past.

Therefore, rather than close his operation down in 2005 he continued with it, and in 2006 it is evident that Mr Ashworth had continued to take on new clients both locally and nationally beyond the closure point upon which he had agreed with Trading Standards that The Orchard Centre would cease to operate because had taken on new casework, not just in the field of benefits and educational issues, but in a new area of work – that of immigration and asylum. We know that he has also taken on complex legal casework such as Family Court representation, social services intervention and matrimonial law – fields in which he is seriously out of his depth, lacking both legal expertise and qualifications and fields in which his clients, crucially, have no recourse to a professional body when things inevitably go wrong, since Mr Ashworth operates unregulated.

Part Two: “Class actions” and “the barrister in London”; The finance of class actions; Evidence of gross misrepresentation; Contact details for Trading Standards; How can you help us?

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