A solicitor sacked by national firm Blake Morgan during his probationary period “grossly abused his position” by duping two investors into handing over money on the basis he was still working there.
Striking Daniel Whittingham off the roll, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said he took £3,000 from one investor and £5,000 from another to buy shares in a bar or nightclub in Manchester, but it was unclear whether the investment opportunity “was a genuine one”.
The SDT heard that Mr Whittingham, admitted in 2015, worked in the banking and finance team at Blake Morgan for just over three months to June 2018.
He was dismissed during his probationary period for reasons unrelated to the SDT proceedings.
He posted an advertisement on a website for angel investors in September 2018. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) did not have the text, but it “seemed to have been seeking to raise money in order to purchase shares in a bar or nightclub in Manchester”.
The first investor, a postgraduate student, contacted Mr Whittingham and asked him for proof of employment.
Mr Whittingham said he had “attached two pictures of my business card for the law firm I work at” and the investor could “see from my LinkedIn I have worked there since earlier this year”. The business card was from Mr Whittingham’s time at Blake Morgan.
The investor agreed to loan the solicitor £3,000 for six months on the basis of a fixed return of £6,000. A second investor introduced by the first agreed to loan £5,000, for a return of £10,000, also in September 2018.
Mr Whittingham told the second investor in a WhatsApp message that he would pay back the money partly by using his “monthly salary as a lawyer”.
The solicitor deployed a wide range of excuses to avoid repaying the loans, including being “taken to hospital on the repayment date and put under sedation”, the SDT heard.
The first investor said that, in October 2021, he contacted Mr Whittingham about the payments and received “seven ad hoc payments in sums of between £100 and £500 per month, adding up to £1,750 in total”. The second investor said he had received nothing.
Mr Whittingham did not attend his disciplinary hearing and was not represented.
The tribunal found that he had acted dishonestly in misleading the investors and in statements he made to the SRA.
Mr Whittingham directed the first investor to his LinkedIn profile, in order to “dupe” him into believing that he was still a solicitor at Blake Morgan. The SDT rejected an explanation he gave to the SRA that the profile was “unintentionally” out of date and that the investor had looked it up himself.
The “proffering of old business cards” was “no mere advertising puff”; it was “a representation of fact designed to deceive”.
In other messages to the SRA, Mr Whittingham said he “only wanted to engage in a professional business transaction, which benefitted the investor”. He was “full of regret that this transaction became complicated and didn’t go to plan”.
The SDT said the “obvious inference to be drawn” was that Mr Whittingham pretended he was still a solicitor at the firm to “bolster his credibility and to garner the confidence” of the investors and “persuade them to part with their money”.
The solicitor had misled the SRA and had given “obfuscating answers” to the questions it had asked of him. He had “grossly abused his position as a solicitor”.
Mr Whittingham offered no mitigation and provided no character references. There was “no evidence of any genuine insight, no open or frank admissions”.
The SDT reduced the SRA’s £22,800 costs claim to only £5,000, on the grounds that the case was “straightforward” and there were no witnesses or respondent at the hearing, which took less than a day instead of the estimated two days.