Probate manager jailed after stealing £634k from two law firms

Laurna Porter

A probate manager who took £634,000 from estates while working at two law firms has been jailed for four years after pleading guilty to charges of fraud by abuse of position and money laundering.

Laurna Porter’s accomplice, Julie Atkins, to whom she funnelled much of the money, was sentenced to two and a half years for money laundering.

Ms Porter, 68, worked mainly at Tamworth firm Dewes Sketchley (now long part of Fishers Solicitors) and then for a year at another Tamworth firm, Glaisyers.

It is unconnected to Manchester and London firm Glaisyers Solicitors LLP, which trades as Glaisyers ETL.

She was sentenced last week, having pleaded guilty in October 2022. In February this year, Ms Atkins, also 68, was convicted following a trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the offences were uncovered when Ms Porter moved to Glaisyers and a discrepancy was discovered, with one of the wills involving a £5,000 payment to Ms Atkins.

An audit by both firms uncovered fraudulent money transfers over a total period of 13 years, involving 23 wills. Many of the cheques were paid into the account of Ms Atkins, with a portion later transferred back to Ms Porter.

The CPS said Ms Porter deliberately targeted victims without close family where she thought the fraud would probably go unnoticed. The fraudulent payments were usually disguised in the accounts either as a debt owed by the estate or a gift.

Amongst the beneficiaries that lost out were charities including Cancer Research, Great Ormond Street, local hospices and animal charities, as well as family and friends of the deceased.

Julie Atkins

Specialist prosecutor Anamarie Coomansingh said the CPS would now seek to recover any available criminal proceeds from the “calculated fraud”.

In a statement, Glaisyers said “irregular activities were discovered in 2018 on a very small number of the files managed by Laurna Porter”. It summarily dismissed her and reported her to the police and Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA).

“Both the police and the SRA found that the illegal activities were the sole responsibility of Laurna Porter and that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by any other individual or member of staff within this firm.

“In reality, the police investigation also revealed that the vast majority of affected files involving Laurna Porter’s inappropriate behaviour were whilst she was working at Dewes Sketchley… where she worked for nearly 10 years.”

Glaisyers said Ms Porter repaid “a significant sum of money back to this firm”, which had been returned to clients, “and further enforcement action has also been taken by this firm which should result in additional monies being recovered from her in due course”.

It continued: “In any event where there is any shortfall between the amount recovered to date and the total outstanding, this has been recovered by way of our legal indemnity insurance cover.

“As a result, we can confirm that all clients affected by these criminal actions have been notified by this firm and the police and fully reimbursed by us.”

The statement also praised the efforts of Staffordshire Police in securing justice.

The SRA issued a section 43 order, banning Ms Porter from working in the profession without its permission, in 2020.

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