Tuesday, August 16, 2011

£150,000 client fund theft at Bell & Co Solicitors, Kilmarnock : Clients warned to withdraw their money from Scots law firms

EMBEZZLEMENT of up to ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS of client funds appears to have taken place at a Kilmarnock law firm, BELL & CO SOLICITORS after an audit carried out on the firm’s accounts revealed a black hole in client funds. The news was reported at the weekend by the Sunday Mail newspaper and has been followed up by Peter Cherbi’s Diary of Injustice law blog which reports more on the story, along with some alarming revelations on a law firm in the Scottish Borders where one of its partners was found to have 23 different bank accounts in other names : Protect your money by withdrawing it from your lawyer as £150,000 goes missing from another Scottish law firm, weak Law Society regulation to blame

SLCC LAW SOCIETYWeak regulation by Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to blame for rising theft of client funds. BELL & COMPANY SOLICITORS, a law firm in Kilmarnock which raked in £119,100 of taxpayer funded legal aid for 2009-2010 has been forced to call in the Police after it was revealed in an audit that the firm appears to have lost up to £150,000 of client funds, reports the Sunday Mail newspaper. The fraud has apparently been going on for a matter of months, with money being taken from some client accounts while other clients money was used to cover up the fraud.

Philip YellandLaw Society of Scotland’s Philip Yelland, in charge of weak regulation of crooked Scottish lawyers for over 20 years. Earlier today, legal experts blamed the dismal level of regulation of Scotland’s legal profession which is supposedly regulated by both the Law Society of Scotland and the anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). However, once again, clients of Scottish solicitors are suffering huge financial losses because of poor regulation and poor oversight of both solicitors and their staff who are targeting the myriad of client accounts held by their law firms, accounts which are often poorly policed by the solicitors who control them and the Law Society of Scotland who are supposed to regulate & audit them.

In just one of the cases brought to the attention of Diary of Injustice over the past year, an apparently small but well known law firm in the Scottish Borders was found to have dozens of bank accounts where client funds had been lost on a regular basis and worse still, one of the solicitors in the law firm has, according to information seen by Diary of Injustice, 23 different bank accounts in different banks & different names, some using variations of his own name, others allegedly in his family members name with control signed over to him.

In the latest reported case of £150,000 of missing client finds, neither the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have issued any public statement.

While the Police have been called in by the law firm, Bell & Co Solicitors, readers will be well aware of the ‘difficulties’ in law firm fraud cases getting to court. Regular readers of Diary of Injustice will also by now be familiar with the notoriously weak client protection scheme offered by by the Law Society to pay out missing client funds, known as the Guarantee Fund, covered in an earlier article, here : Law Society's 'Guarantee Fund' for clients of crooked lawyers revealed as multi million pound masterpiece of claims dodging corruption

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) was asked for input on this story and whether it was concerned over the revelations a firm on its books has suffered a fraud. As yet no response has been forthcoming from SLAB.

The message is clear, the Law Society of Scotland has failed yet again to keep tight financial controls on client funds and an effective regime of enforcement which would prevent client fund accounts being looted in Scotland on a daily basis by solicitors and their office staff. If you as consumers want to protect your own funds & assets, you would be advised to withdraw them from your solicitors control and their law firm, immediately.

The Sunday Mail reports on Bell & Company of Kirmarnock :

Law firm call in the police after £150k goes missing

Aug 14 2011 Derek Alexander, Sunday Mail

A LAW firm have called in police after large sums of clients' cash went missing.

An audit of accounts at Bell & Company Solicitors found a six-figure sum, which legal sources say could be as high as £150,000, was missing. Now detectives plan to question a female member of staff who has been absent from work since the black hole in the accounts was revealed.

The Kilmarnock firm, run by lawyer Susan Bell, contacted the police last month. They have also contacted the Law Society of Scotland about "financial irregularities".

Fraud squad officers will investigate claims that legal documents were forged and clients' mortgage and loan repayments falsified over a period of months. Law firms hold money in account for their clients during legal transactions including house purchases.

A source said: "This is a serious situation. It will affect clients who had hoped to either use money to buy a house or pay off their existing loans. The cash is no longer there for them. It appears the money was disappearing from the clients' account for a few months and the holes were being plugged but with other clients' cash. It was only matter of time before it was discovered."

Ms Bell said last night: "On July 19, I discovered apparent irregularities in my firm's client account. A member of staff, who was not a solicitor, was suspended immediately. Following disciplinary proceedings, her employment was terminated."

No comments: