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Solicitor helped himself to £88,000 from dementia sufferer

SDT: Solicitor breached position of trust

A solicitor who helped himself to almost £88,000 from a dementia victim for whom he was acting under a power of attorney has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

The SDT said Phillip Charles York also became involved in a fraudulent property transaction, telling his indemnity insurer he did not know of circumstances which could lead to a claim despite the fact that police were investigating.

Mr York, principal of PCD York & Co in Ealing, west London, mainly handled conveyancing and probate work. He was born in 1941 and admitted in 1979. Following complaints about his firm, it was closed by the SRA in May 2018.

He was appointed under an enduring power of attorney for Mrs JW, who later developed dementia.

After her husband’s death in 2008, he was instructed to deal with the estate. Mr York acted in the sale of the family home for £240,000 in 2010. He did not complete the estate distribution and instead over the next six years transferred £87,961 from Mrs JW’s client account to himself in 33 separate payments.

The firm’s accounts described most of these payments as a “loan”, which the SDT noted was “to himself”.

Questioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) about the money in 2018, Mr York admitted that he should not have taken it and “towards the end” it was used to pay the landlord who was pressing him for rent.

The tribunal also found that Mr York had acted in a property transaction which “bore the hallmarks of fraud”, having failed to carry out due diligence which “would have alerted him to the possibility of his firm being used for money laundering”.

During an interview with the SRA, Mr York admitted that he transferred £248,000, the proceeds of sale of a property less costs, on the instructions of Ms B to an unknown third party, without carrying out any checks on it.

Nottinghamshire Police contacted Mr York in April and asked him where he had sent the sale proceeds. The following month he wrote to the bank, saying he understood that the “sale was by means of a fraud”.

However, when it came to completing his indemnity insurance renewal form in August 2017, which asked him if he was aware of any “circumstances or claims” which he had not yet reported, Mr York answered “no”.

On the same day as he completed the form, the solicitor received an email from Nottinghamshire Police, saying: “We believe the property was fraudulently sold by your clients as they did not actually own the property.

“I believe this is something you were already made aware of by the buyer’s solicitor.”

In another case, the estate of Mrs LS, who died in 2011, Mr York recorded the first payment into client account nearly six years after accepting instructions from her daughter as executrix. That was for £26,600, and the second for £794,000.

However, Mr York started transferring funds to office account in 2012, stating that they were for “bills” – but none had been sent to the client. He transferred over £75,000 to office account and did not send an estate account until 2018.

Earlier that year the daughter had refused a request from Mr York for a “loan”, which turned out to be for an amount, £43,500, which he had already transferred to himself.

After the SRA started its investigation, Mr York transferred £50,000 to her in April 2018. He submitted a bill for just over £50,000 that summer. The executrix refused to pay because of the delays.

The tribunal found that all the allegations made against Mr York were proved. These included acting dishonestly by taking money from client accounts without due reason and by failing to tell his indemnity insurers that police were investigating one of his cases.

The only mitigation offered by the sole practitioner was that he had been made bankrupt in August this year.

The SDT concluded: “His conduct had been planned, repeated many times, over many years, and he had acted in breach of his position of trust, having taken advantage of one very vulnerable client.”

He had harmed “numerous beneficiaries who had been deprived of the money that belonged to them for very lengthy periods of time”.

Mr York had previously been fined £1,000 by the tribunal for accounts rule breaches in 1991, when the state of his books was described as “appalling”.

He was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £14,500.