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Probate solicitor took money from estates to keep firm afloat

Probate: Solicitor took from eight client accounts

A probate solicitor took money from the estates to shore up his practice over eight years and produced false accounts to clients to hide what he had done, it has emerged.

Michael David Collier, who also lied to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) when it questioned him about what had happened, has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

The tribunal approved an agreed outcome reached by the SRA and Mr Collier, in which he admitted his dishonesty.

Mr Collier, who qualified in 1994, operated as a sole practitioner at Collier Law in York from 2005 until the SRA shut it down in 2018.

The SRA only became aware of problems at the firm as a result of the firm’s annual accountant’s report in late 2017, which showed that in June 2016 the firm’s transferred £40,000 from client to office account as a loan. The funds were returned more than 14 months later with interest.

The investigation identified eight matters over the years where there were improper transfers of nearly £300,000 in total; £59,000 was replaced on two of them, leaving a cash shortage of £232,555.

Mr Collier raised interim bills to justify the transfers, but these had not been delivered to clients because he had not in fact carried out the legal work.

In some cases, the SRA found, the clients had never been told of the transfers and Mr Collier had manipulated the estates accounts to disguise the transfers.

The solicitor admitted initially lying to the SRA about what he had done but then came clean.

In mitigation, Mr Collier said he was “profoundly sorry” and accepted full responsibility for his actions.

“He was under immense personal and financial pressure for a number of years as the result of a distressing divorce and business difficulties,” the outcome recorded.

“He only ever intended to shore up his firm’s office account temporarily by transferring money from the client account, but events overtook him and he was never able to make the correcting transfers…

“He was not motivated by personal gain but rather by a desire to keep the firm in business so that he could provide a service (and, later, in the hope that he could put right what he had done wrong.”

Mr Collier said he has since been made bankrupt “and has lost everything including his livelihood and reputation”, but remained committed to repaying the sums owed to the beneficiaries when he was able to.

He also agreed to pay the SRA’s costs of £19,000.