Partner who told trainee to change dates of deed is struck off

Tipp-Ex: How not to amend an executed deed

A partner who told a trainee solicitor to change the date on a mortgage deed before sending it to Companies House and then change it back again before sending the deed to the Land Registry has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) rejected Michael Robert Thompson’s claim that, when he was a trainee at Welsh firm Marchant Harries, he had been shown how to change the dates of documents using Tipp-Ex.

The SDT heard that, by early 2019, Mr Thompson was a partner at the firm, having joined as a paralegal in 2005 and qualified as a solicitor in 2007.

Mr Thompson admitted that he told the trainee solicitor to change the date on a mortgage deed in January 2019 but “did not consider at the time that he had done anything wrong in doing so”, a belief “based on his training” by former supervising partner Stefano Rabaiotti.

Mr Rabaiotti, who gave evidence in person, said he would “correct errors made on a document pre-execution but never post-execution”.

He denied showing Mr Thompson during his training how a deed could be changed using Tipp-Ex to bring it “within a timeframe”, as this would amount to falsifying a document.

The SDT said it was “fundamentally implausible that any solicitor would believe that such a course of action would be permissible” and it found Mr Rabaiotti’s evidence to be credible.

Mr Thompson acknowledged that he may have misunderstood what he had been told.

Even if Mr Thompson had been taught that this was acceptable, by the time he was a partner and qualified for seven years, “he would (if honest) have been incapable of believing that having the deed altered in this way would be acceptable”.

The tribunal found that Mr Thompson knew that the only route to correct the situation was to make an application to the court.

It kept the trainee solicitor’s identity confidential – she was referred to as Person A – because “her own integrity and honesty had not been impugned” and her career could be “blighted” by being named.

She told the tribunal that she sent the mortgage deed to Companies House for registration within the 21-day deadline after completion, but forgot to include the filing fee.

When she sent it again, it was rejected by Companies House as out of time. Mr Thompson admitted telling her to change the date to a later date before sending it again.

However, he denied telling her to change the date back to the original date before sending the mortgage deed to the Land Registry.

The tribunal found that not only had he done this, but then “made clear” to Person A that she should give “untrue” replies when the Land Registry raised a requisition about the deed’s certificate of registration.

Mr Thompson admitted a later incident in July 2019 when he submitted a “false certified copy” of another mortgage deed to Companies House, which had been backdated by a month.

After an investigation by the law firm, he was suspended in August 2019 and resigned the following month.

He was found by the SDT to have acted dishonestly in causing or allowing Person A to change the dates on the deed and give a false response to a Land Registry query, and in sending a false copy of another deed to Companies House.

Counsel for the solicitor argued in mitigation that because of “a number of personal factors, including health”, Mr Thompson “was not thinking straight” and was on “autopilot” at the time of the events. He argued that Mr Thompson should be suspended rather than struck off.

However, the tribunal found that the solicitor’s misconduct was “deliberate, repeated and calculated”, made worse by his “supervisory” role which “had put the trainee in a difficult position”.

The SDT added: “It was apparent that Mr Thompson continued to place blame on to others and it was for this reason that the tribunal was unable to conclude that he had full insight into the seriousness of his actions and his personal responsibility for them.”

While he was under “significant personal and professional stress” at the time, there was no evidence that “the balance of his mind was affected in such a way as to displace the state of knowledge and belief” the tribunal had found.

The solicitor was struck off and ordered to pay £22,200 in costs.

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