“Reckless” conveyancer agrees to leave profession

SRA: Solicitor suffered memory loss after illness

A “reckless” solicitor who admitted registering properties with the wrong purchase price and failing to carry out anti-money laundering (AML) checks has agreed to leave the profession.

Bruce Leonard Crabb told the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that he could not remember whether he met the client in a transaction where he recorded the sale price with the Land Registry at £270,000, instead of the £216,000 quoted on the completion statement.

The SRA said Mr Crabb, sole principal of Austin Ryder & Co in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, had allowed the deposit on a property in East London to be paid directly by his client to the seller, without enquiring about the source of funds or telling the mortgage lender.

In a regulatory settlement agreement, the SRA said the solicitor’s client ledger showed the purchase price as £216,000, with £3,500 in stamp duty, while the certificate of title submitted to the Land Registry recorded it as £270,000.

“When asked about the matter, Mr Crabb stated he could not remember whether he had met the client or whether she had visited the office.”

In another property purchase in London, Mr Crabb reported the price as £350,000 in the certificate of title for the lender, and £360,000 in the contract of sale submitted to the Land Registry.

He checked one bank statement, which showed balance of only £17,500, to verify the source of the purchase money and admitted failing to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations.

In a further transaction, for the purchase of a property in Essex for £300,000, Mr Crabb obtained a bank statement from the client showing a balance of only £5,400.

He was “unable to recall” whether the source of £66,800 forwarded by the client was checked.

The SRA said that, in June 2016, Austin Ryder & Co was removed from a building society’s panel of solicitors, before being restored two years later.

The SRA investigated, producing a report in July 2019. This found that in one case Mr Crabb “failed to obtain any evidence” that deposit money, said to have paid directly to the seller, had actually been paid.

With two purchaser clients new to the firm, Mr Crabb relied solely on third parties to verify IDs.

“During an SRA-led interview, Mr Crabb stated that in 2016 he suffered a significant period of ill health, culminating in memory loss as a result.”

However, the SRA said: “The nature of the misconduct was high because the conduct was reckless.”

The regulator said he had failed to comply with the AML regulations and his misconduct was not isolated and had occurred on a number of files.

In addition to the errors and omissions on the files, he failed to follow his firm’s own “policies, controls and procedures”.

The SRA said a fine of between £25,000 and £50,000 was appropriate but, given his undertaking to remove himself from the roll and his ill health, could be reduced to £2,000, the maximum that the regulator can impose without involving the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Mr Crabbe was ordered to pay costs of £1,350.

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