Insurance giant Allianz has warned the legal profession that its effort to clamp down on fraud will not stop at policyholders, after its investigations led to a solicitor being struck off for falsifying signatures on witness statements.
Having missed a deadline to exchange witness evidence, Lesley Dee Layton admitted to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that she had dishonestly instructed a colleague to copy the signature of her client from another document onto an unsigned copy of her witness statement.
The suspicions of Allianz’s solicitors, BLM, were aroused because it noted that “the statement of truth… appeared to have been cut from another document and copied onto the statement which had been served” and that “the date of the statement of truth had been removed”.
When BLM asked for the original, Ms Layton directed someone else “to trace over the signatures which had been copied into those statements using ballpoint pen, in order to give the impression that they were original signatures”.
At Allianz’s request, the statement was sent for detailed forensic analysis, which concluded that the signature had been forged by using a photocopy of the claimant’s signature lifted from a court document.
As soon as the detailed forensics report came back, BLM referred the case to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Despite the analysis, Ms Layton maintained to both BLM and the court that the signatures were genuine, insisting that she had acted appropriately and honestly throughout the matter. But the judge disagreed, given the expert evidence, and struck out the claim as an abuse of process.
He ordered the claimant’s solicitors – Blackburn-based Lance Mason – to pay all of Allianz’s costs, some £27,000.
Ms Layton – who was born in 1981 and admitted as a solicitor in 2007 – accepted that she would be struck off in an agreed outcome that was approved by the tribunal.
She also acknowledged that, in a separate case, she had caused a claim form to be filed at court which argued her client had had an accident on a date she did not believe to be true – she did this to come within the limitation period.
She also ordered a claim form previously signed by the claimant to be attached to the claim with the wrong date, and the document be filed at court.
Ms Layton pointed out she had made “open and frank admissions” and co-operated with the SRA. She had had a previously unblemished career and was “thoroughly embarrassed” by her misconduct.
Allianz’s fraud manager, Nick Kelsall, said: “Not only has Lesley had to incur the financial repercussions for committing fraud, she now has to face the long-term consequences of her actions.
“Unfortunately this individual abused her position of power and now she is paying the consequences. The result sends a clear message that Allianz will rigorously defend all types of fraud and will use the law to punish fraudsters in order to protect our customers.”
Raymond Southern, a fraud partner at BLM, added: “While for some, forgery may at first appear a simple cut and paste job, this outcome should provide a strong deterrent to anyone considering falsifying papers, and it’s one that was the result of a close partnership between BLM and Allianz.
“Together we rigorously investigated the case, and it quickly became apparent that this was a dishonest effort to cause a loss to our client.
“While this is a sad case that highlights the extent, and the severe consequence, for any individual undertaking fraudulent activity, we take no pleasure in having to pursue this matter. The integrity of the legal profession, however, is paramount to the judicial process and public confidence. ”