Solicitor jailed after falling for scam loses appeal against sentence


Stacey: Trial judge was merciful

The former senior partner of a Norfolk law firm, jailed for four years last September for fraud, has failed in his appeal against sentence.

Mrs Justice Stacey said that “if anything” the sentence was “lenient”, given the almost £2m stolen by Hugh Lansdell from clients of Norwich-based Hansells Solicitors as he struggled to meet the demands of scammers who told him he had won a Spanish postcode lottery.

The Court of Appeal heard that Mr Lansdell, struck off in 2019, was 74 when he pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position, contrary to section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006.

It was common ground that the starting point for the offence under the Sentencing Council guidelines was seven years’ imprisonment, based on only £1m worth of harm.

Stacey J said Recorder Hardy KC at Norwich Crown Court “rightly noted” that none of the statutory aggravating features applied to this case.

“He was merciful in not making an upward adjustment to reflect the scale of the offending and the harm caused, which was almost double the £1m figure loss presumed by the starting point.

“He then gave the maximum downward adjustment that he possibly could of two years, to arrive at a sentence of five years (the very bottom of the range) prior to the deduction for credit.

“He took full account of all the personal mitigation and factors related to the offence that assisted the applicant. He was also magnanimous in giving a 20% discount for a guilty plea four days before trial, when other judges may have considered that a percentage closer to 10% was appropriate.”

The Court of Appeal heard in R v Lansdell [2024] EWCA Crim 147 that Mr Lansdell had been senior partner of Hansells Solicitors, “a prestigious provincial firm that had been his father’s before him”, and where he had worked for 30 years.

Stacey J said that, from August 2015 to July 2017, the senior partner stole just under £2m of client money in 72 separate transactions from client accounts, investment portfolios and personal bank accounts of clients for whom he had a lasting power of attorney.

“The applicant offended in this way because he had himself fallen for an advance fee fraud scam. He believed that he had won a Spanish lottery and needed to make the payments to release his winnings of approximately £8m.”

Mr Lansdell initially made payments from his own and his wife’s joint account, and when they were exhausted used funds from his personal accounts and his firm’s client accounts.

Stacey J said that when discrepancies in the accounts were discovered, the solicitor “lied repeatedly to his staff, to his partners and to his clients”, telling them the money was “under his control” and had been invested on the advice of his sister-in-law, who in fact knew nothing about it.

“When the full extent of the fraud was discovered by the firm, the applicant eventually admitted to what he had done. The discovery of his offending caused serious financial and reputational damage to Hansells Solicitors.”

Stacey J said Mr Lansdell argued in his appeal that remarks were made at his plea hearing in May 2023 were “inconsistent with the sentencing hearing”.

However, she said that, in putting the matter back for sentence, Recorder Hardy “made no promises and said that all options were open”.

Stacey J went on: “In reality, the offending could only ever have led to an immediate and lengthy custodial sentence. But if the applicant took false hope or comfort from the thought of all options being open, he was wrong to do so.”

The fault did not lie with the recorder but with solicitor, who “took from his words what he wanted to hear”.

Mr Lansdell also argued that the recorder had failed to “give sufficient consideration to factors reducing seriousness and personal mitigation”.

Stacey J said the solicitor had “considerable mitigation”. He was a “pillar of the church and the local community”, who had “lost everything” by falling for the scam, including “his reputation, his marriage, his home, his job, his wealth, and he had had this matter hanging over him for six years prior to sentence”.

However, the recorder “took careful note of all the excellent mitigation”.

Stacey J said Mr Lansdell’s appeal was not “reasonably arguable” and dismissed it. Lady Justice Macur and His Honour Judge Picton contributed to the judgment.




    Readers Comments

  • Legaleagle says:

    The justice system is stupid. I know someone who represented a client pro bono won the case and then got 4 years as they couldn’t find him in the barrister directory .


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