Solicitor jailed for 12 years for castle fraud after private prosecution

Taymouth Castle: Two counts of fraud

A solicitor has been jailed for 12 years for fraud by abuse of a position of trust following a private prosecution brought by his former client.

Stephen David Jones, who qualified in 1986 and provided legal and tax services through London law firm Jirehouse, pleaded guilty to two counts relating to the transfers of $14m and $2m by Discovery Land Company (DLC) to its client account six months apart in 2018.

His Honour Griffith at Southwark Crown Court sentenced him to nine years and three years respectively, to run consecutively.

According to a report from DLC’s barristers, Steven Kay KC and Max Hardy of 9BR Chambers, the judge said the conduct of Mr Jones was of “rank dishonesty” and described the impact on the victims as causing immense damage, including to the personal relationships of those involved.

The judge said Mr Jones’s conduct was “obviously prosecutable”; however, the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) did not do so.

As we have previously reported, there are separate civil proceedings involving Jirehouse’s insurer, which is trying to defeat a £6m claim from DLC and two other claimants. It is common ground that the claims arise out of Mr Jones’s dishonesty.

Jirehouse acted for DLC, an American property developer, on its planned $14m acquisition of historic Taymouth Castle, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed on their honeymoon.

It wired the money to the client account of Jirehouse Trustees, one of three law firms using the Jirehouse name. All three were shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in May 2019.

The money was meant to stay there until the deal completed but the High Court in 2019 found that Mr Jones actually lent the money immediately upon receipt to two borrowers, whose identities were still unknown and who have not repaid it.

When the purchase of the castle was due to complete in December 2018, Mr Jones used stalling tactics to falsely claim that the original funds had compliance and money laundering issues and could not be used.

He then advised DLC that, if it transferred another $9.3m, he could complete the purchase with the fresh funds, resolve the compliance issues within seven days and pay back their excess funds two days later. This money has also not been recovered.

He continued to stall, including reporting DLC to the National Crime Agency in a suspicious activity report; it cleared the transaction.

In August 2019, Mr Justice Zacaroli jailed Mr Jones for 14 months after finding him guilty on four counts of contempt of court for breaching undertakings to return all the money and explain what had happened to it, including the identity of the two borrowers, in aid of a freezing order.

He admitted within 48 hours that he would not be able to return the money, however.

The judge also directed the case papers be sent to the CPS, but after 18 months DLC instructed the barristers under the direct access scheme, with a litigation extension, to bring a private prosecution.

They liaised closely with Davis Woolfe, the City law firm acting for DLC in the civil case.

In the wake of the ruling, the Solicitors Regulation Authority reported that Mr Jones had been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

In an agreed outcome, he admitted acting in contempt of court, aggravated by dishonesty, and when he had an own-client conflict. The full ruling will be published in due course.

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