Solicitor fabricated grant of probate in “unforgiveable breach of trust”

Probate application: Solicitor failed to make on

An experienced private client lawyer who forged a grant of probate has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

John Mark O’Hara Walker, a former partner at London and Surrey firm Morrisons Solicitors, was acting for the estate of a woman who had lacked mental capacity and had two disabled sons living in care.

The SDT said Mr Walker, a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, was “dealing with vulnerable people” and had suggested a statutory will should be made for Ms GH but failed to take the necessary steps.

“He let down all three of Ms GH’s sons and most notably he did not deliver on the deceased’s wishes to protect her two sons in care.

“He then compounded his failure after her death by providing misleading reassurances to his client and then fabricating and providing to the client a grant of probate to indicate that he had made more progress with the estate than he had.”

Noting that Mr Walker’s misrepresentations were “elaborate and sophisticated”, the tribunal went on: “He was a well-qualified solicitor who could rely on his reputation and experience in his field of law to boost his credibility.

“The tribunal did not know what the consequences were for the deceased’s sons, but they were certainly made more vulnerable by his actions and deceit.

“They were kept out of the money from their late mother’s estate for at least a couple of years and of the benefits and financial support which they could have derived from it.

“The respondent had committed an unforgiveable breach of trust over a period of time.”

Approving an agreed outcome between Mr Walker and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the SDT heard that from Mr Walker – born in 1955 and qualified in 1987 – was latterly employed as a legal director in the private client department at Morrisons, having previously been a partner.

He acted for the estate of Ms GH on behalf of Mr RH, the son who was not disabled. Mr RH instructed Mr Walker to apply to the Court of Protection for a statutory will because Ms GH lacked capacity, but he did not do this or apply for a grant in respect of Ms GH’s estate.

He misled both Mr RH and his firm regarding progress in the case, and in December 2016 created a false grant of probate, which he sent to his client.

Morrisons received a complaint in January 2017 and shortly afterwards Mr Walker admitted what he had done.

Mr Walker resigned and the firm reported his misconduct to the SRA. As well as breaching SRA principles, he admitted dishonesty.

In mitigation the solicitor said he was “unknowingly suffering from stress and an inability to cope with his overall workload” when the misconduct took place, but he did not seek to contend that there were exceptional circumstances.

He also said he felt an “overwhelming sense of relief” that the misconduct had come to light. He said his actions had been motivated by “a desire to be seen to be able to cope”.

The SDT ordered Mr Walker to be struck off and pay £3,000 in costs.

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