A respected solicitor who took £4m from her clients – and also stole Church of England cash in her role as registrar with the Diocese of Wakefield – has been jailed for seven years.
Linda Box, who is 67, pleaded guilty to nine counts of fraud, two of forgery and one of theft.
She was senior partner of 200-year-old Wakefield firm Dixon Coles & Gill, which the Solicitors Regulation Authority closed down last April in the wake of Ms Box’s two partners uncovering the 12-year fraud.
According to the local newspaper, the Wakefield Express, Ms Box used the money, mainly taken from estates, along with £63,000 of Church of England cash belonging to the Bishop of Wakefield’s Fund, “to fund a lavish lifestyle for herself and close family members”.
It said she used the money to fund for her “obsession” for buying clothes, including holding a special account card with Harrods. Money was also spent on £800-a-night stays at The Ritz in London and a collection of vintage wines for her son worth £800,000.
Sums of illegally obtained cash also went on funding mortgages for relatives, private school fees for her grandchild and landscaping work at her home.
Ms Box paid £236,554 to a marketing and public relations firm which did work for her husband’s firm of funeral directors. Illegally obtained cash was also used to cover her tax liabilities and pay council tax bills.
In addition, the paper said, Ms Box also forged the signature of another solicitor on probate documents, and another colleague in order to access a trust fund.
Some 75 individual client files, many involving estates of deceased, and 10 files relating the church showed misappropriation.
Jailing the solicitor, Mr Justice Blake was quoted as describing it as a tale of misplaced trust, “all because of your unrestrained and out of control greed”.
After the trial ended, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal published the outcome of a hearing last October at which Ms Box was struck off for misappropriating client money.
In her mitigation, her counsel said that “the perception” of her success as a successful solicitor “had pressured her to feel that she had to provide for her family and friends. Her generosity in later years had extended far beyond her means and she had lacked the courage to say that she could not afford to provide the lifestyle they had become accustomed to”.
The tribunal said there had been “losses of a breathtaking amount” – at the time of the hearing, the compensation fund had paid out £300,000 and had another £600,000 in claims pending. The firm’s insurers had paid out £800,000 but “may seek to limit their liability by aggregating claims”.