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SRA: “trust of clients abused”

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has struck off Nasir Ilyas, the last partner of North West firm Wolstenholmes to be disciplined for professional misconduct.

The collapse of Wolstehnhomes has cost the Compensation Fund more than £13m. The firm was closed down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in December 2009 on the grounds of suspected dishonesty and breaches of the Solicitors Accounts Rules.

Mr Ilyas was struck off last week, after a three-day hearing at the SDT, and ordered to pay £170,000 costs.

He was the fifth member of Wolstenholmes LLP to the disciplined by the tribunal, which heard the cases of four other members together with an employee of the firm in May 2013.

Gordon Ramsay, director for legal and enforcement at the SRA, said: “The decision of the SDT brings to a close a massive investigation on behalf of a large number of clients who put their trust in Wolstenholmes, and found that trust abused.

“So far we have paid out more than £13 million from the Compensation Fund to victims of the actions of Mr Ilyas and his colleagues.”

The tribunal found all eight allegations brought by the SRA proven against Mr Ilyas, the former firm’s chief executive.

The allegations included causing or permitting unqualified third parties to have an inappropriate degree of control and influence over the firm, behaving in a way likely to diminish the trust the public placed in him and the profession, failing to co-operate with the SRA’s investigation into the firm, and acting with a lack of integrity and dishonestly in relation to the allegations.

It was also alleged that Mr Ilyas had dishonestly sought to mislead the SRA during its investigation.

Evidence before the tribunal included testimony from several clients whose conveyancing transactions had been handled by the firm.

A spokesman for the SRA that in one case, a client left the proceeds of a sale with the firm to make another purchase.

A week before completion, she was notified that the firm’s Birmingham office, with which she was dealing, was to close and her attempts to contact the firm were unsuccessful. She was forced to instruct other solicitors to complete the purchase using her mother’s savings. In March 2010 she received compensation from the SRA of over £150,000, including interest.

The spokesman said: “The tribunal commented that as it was taken through the evidence it had escalating concerns and that there was powerful and compelling evidence from victims. The firm, it said, was in chaos and there was an inexcusable array of failures.

“The issue was tragic for the clients and the profession, the tribunal added, while Mr Ilyas’ denial of responsibility was unrealistic. His account was said to be implausible and, at times, untruthful and his denial incredulous. It concluded that this was the worst case of its type the tribunal had heard.”

At the hearing in May 2013, four other partners and an employee of the firm faced many of the same allegations brought against Mr Ilyas, which included two allegations of dishonesty levelled against Imran Hussain and one allegation of dishonesty levelled at Asma Qayum. They were both struck off and ordered to pay costs of over £137,000 and £91,900 respectively.

Helen Murgatroyd was suspended for two years, Bilal Khawaja was suspended for one year and Bobby Shabbir was suspended for six months.

Mr Ilyas has 21 days from the SDT’s publication of the written judgment to appeal the decision.

 

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