Employee diverted client’s stamp duty refund to herself

SRA: Section 43 order

A law firm employee who diverted a client’s stamp duty refund to herself – via an unwitting friend’s bank account – has been barred from the profession.

The order imposed on Sophie Mulrooney under the Solicitors Act 1974 means that she cannot work for a law firm in future without the permission of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

In a notice published last week, the SRA said Ms Mulrooney worked at First Legal Solicitors in Liverpool, where she oversaw and had day-to-day running of its stamp duty refund cases. She was supervised by a solicitor.

In one case in late 2022, the firm received a refund for a client of just over £3,000 from HM Revenue & Customs. Ms Mulrooney provided the firm’s finance team with the client’s supposed bank account details and the money was paid over.

She subsequently left the firm and it was only in August 2023 that the client asked the firm for an update as she had not received the refund.

It emerged that Ms Mulrooney had amended the client’s name, contact information and bank details to those of someone connected to her.

First Legal replaced the client’s refund and “has improved its controls to prevent the situation occurring again”, the SRA said.

The firm referred her to the regulator and also wrote to Ms Mulrooney, who admitted what she had done.

She said she had told the person whose details she had used that there had been an issue with her bank account so needed to have her wages paid into theirs. They were not aware of what she had done.

Ms Mulrooney admitted she had been dishonest, saying in mitigation that it was a one-off incident – “albeit a serious one” – that there had been issues in her personal life at the time, and that the firm had accepted her offer to repay the money in instalments.

She agreed with the SRA that her conduct made it “undesirable for her to be involved in a legal practice”.

“There is a risk that Ms Mulrooney may act in a similar way in the future and there is a strong public interest in controlling Ms Mulrooney’s employment at firms we regulate,” the SRA said.

She also agreed to pay the SRA’s costs of £675.

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