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Byline: By CLINTON MANNING Business Editor

MINISTERS stand accused of using "bully-boy" tactics against 75,000 workers stripped of their pensions.

The Department of Work and Pensions is threatening to pursue the group for massive legal costs if they lose their case at the European Court of Justice.

The pensioners lost their nesteggs when the 400 or so firms they worked for went bust between 1997 and 2005. Pensions secretary John Hutton then dismissed compensation claims.

This was despite the damning findings of Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abrahams' inquiry into government advice leaflets on final salary pensions which described them as "inaccurate, incomplete and inconsistent".

Now the DWP has tried to "scare off" the group with the prospect of unlimited legal damages.

Ros Altmann, an economist helping spearhead the campaign, condemned the threat. "The DWP's practice has been to avoid seeking legal costs from unsuccessful litigants where a point of public importance of this kind is at stake.

"This government appears to have abandoned such principles. The government is using bully-boy tactics to try to scare us off."

Details emerged as the group met a group of MPs in Parliament yesterday to try to win support for their case. The victims included widow Marlene Cheshire whose husband Dave died 12 months ago.

She is receiving a paltry pounds 20 a week from the Financial Assistance Scheme when her husband was due pounds 10,000 a year from the pension fund at shelving firm Dexion.

Altmann said: "This is worse than Maxwell, who plundered the Mirror's pension fund. With Maxwell 32,000 were affected and many got their pensions back.

"This is twice that number. They are no nearer getting their money back and the government has left them swinging in the breeze."

In a further blow to the pensioners, the government has applied to stop the vast majority of the victims benefiting if the ruling did go against them.

Government lawyers have asked courts to impose a "temporal limitation order" on the case which would mean anyone not registered as a named claimant when a judgment is announced could be excluded from any compensation awarded.

The unions bringing the case have only registered names in a handful of schemes.

"This is another attempt to deny justice to the victims of this pension scandal and stitch up a deal behind the scenes for the favoured few," said Altmann.

"The government is trying to reform pensions to encourage people to contribute in future.

"Who will ever trust pensions again if people who saved all their lives are treated so badly?"


MAKING WAVES: Protesters in the sea in Brighton' WIDOW: Marlene Cheshire
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 12, 2006
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