Alcoholic solicitor struck off for stealing fees from clients


Solicitor took cash for himself

A solicitor who took thousands of pounds in cash payments from clients and dishonestly failed to declare them to his firm has been struck off.

A Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing was told that Andrew John Peters, who had been employed by Hertfordshire firm Martin Smith & Co, had a self-confessed drink problem and had admitted he “didn’t know what he was doing most of the time”.

The solicitor was reported by the firm to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for having undeclared convictions for drink driving and driving without insurance, and was separately made subject to a county court judgment that led to an attachment of earnings order.

It then emerged that clients had made cash payments that were not properly recorded or banked. After this conduct was discovered, he was dismissed in November 2016.

As well as failing to report his motoring conviction, it was alleged that Mr Peters, who was born in 1963 and admitted in 1989, had dishonestly breached accounts rules.

The tribunal was told he had obtained and retained dozens of payments from clients between March 2013 and October 2016, sometimes giving receipts for them, and had not repaid any of it.

The firm had refunded clients more than £26,000. It had not recovered any of the money from indemnity insurers because no single sum taken was more than the firm’s policy excess.

The SRA’s forensic investigation officer said he had enquired of 29 clients that notified the firm they had paid monies to Mr Peters, half of which provided evidence of payments such as receipts. He drew up a table in which those 15 clients had made 38 payments totalling £19,590.

According to the investigating officer, the solicitor claimed in interview that any monies he received related to work conducted out of hours. He admitted to keeping £10,000 and had maintained a list so knew who had paid him money.

He later said that he had been “heavily intoxicated” during the interview.

He admitted his personal financial situation was “appalling”, that he had been using the money as temporary cash flow, and said he had intended to repay the money into the firm’s bank account when he could afford to.

He admitted he had a problem with alcohol and said that, in the six months before his employment ended with the firm, he had been drinking heavily due to stress. He also admitted taking recreational drugs.

He had admitted “he did not know what the hell [he] was doing most of the time”.

The tribunal determined that the solicitor – who did not attend the hearing – “knew he was retaining money that belonged either to the firm, or to clients of the firm, and he was using it for his own purposes.”

It found all the allegations against him proven, including that of dishonesty, which he had denied.

His motivation had been “to obtain money from clients and his firm for his own personal use”.

His actions extended over three years so could not be considered spontaneous.

The tribunal continued: “He sought cash payments from clients who trusted him and withheld money from the firm his employer. He had direct control of and sole responsibility for what occurred.

“The respondent was a solicitor of considerable experience and admitted that he knew what he did was wrong.”

Striking the solicitor off, the tribunal noted that “the respondent himself accepted that he was not fit to practise” and “had always accepted wide-ranging breaches of the rules which might well justify his compulsory striking from the roll”.

Mr Peters was ordered to pay £19,000 costs.

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