police

Sussex police: Consumers should not rely purely on web searches

A disbarred barrister was jailed for fraud last week after taking money from the parents of children with special educational needs but failing to appear at court.

David John Abbott, from Peacehaven in Sussex, was jailed for two years and three months at Lewes Crown Court.

His colleague, Richard Hayes from Hove, who also pretended to be a barrister, was ordered to perform 250 hours of community service.

At a previous hearing Mr Abbott had pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud and Mr Hayes to one count.

In a statement, Sussex Police said the pair pleaded guilty to representing themselves as a qualified lawyers, running companies entitled Consumer Family Legal Services and then SEN legal services.

They defrauded three families, who retained the pair to represent them in family court proceedings for special educational needs tribunals for their young children.

Detective Constable Brad Lozynski of Brighton CID said: “Abbott and Hayes exploited these vulnerable and trusting families, who had simply searched the internet for specialist legal advice.

“They gave every appearance of being genuine, but at the last minute failed to attend court, leaving the victims high and dry with no valid legal advice, and having incurred considerable expense.

“We were glad to be able to help them achieve justice, but this case does serve as a warning to people planning legal action that they should be careful in their research in deciding who to retain, and not rely purely on web searches.”

Mr Abbott was called to the Bar in 2008, but appeared before a disciplinary tribunal in 2011. Among the offences he faced were holding himself out to be a barrister without a practising certificate and engaging in conduct likely to diminish confidence in the legal profession.

One example of the second offence was “despite agreeing to provide paperwork for a client for an appeal hearing, and despite being paid in advance for the same, he failed to do so”.

Mr Abbott was also accused of engaging in conduct discreditable to a barrister in that “he entered or attempted to enter into an agreement” with an individual to withdraw civil proceedings and his complaint to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) “if he paid the sum of £500.”

Mr Abbott was disbarred, which came into effect the following year, fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of just under £1,200.

A spokesman for the BSB said: “If people are not sure if the person they are dealing with is actually a practising barrister, they can find out via the Barristers’ Register, available on our website.

“If the person’s name does not appear on the Register, they should let us know. In some cases the BSB will refer matters to the police.”

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