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Solicitor jailed for siphoning client money struck off

SDT: conviction for serious offences

A solicitor has been struck off after being sentenced to a year in prison for fraudulently siphoning off more than £13,000 from his firm and initially trying to obstruct an investigation of the crime.

Gregory Craig Davies accepted the sanction after he was jailed for 12 months because he stole the firm’s money on numerous occasions and dishonestly faked documents in the process.

While he did not claim there were any exceptional circumstances meaning he should not be struck off, he did claim in mitigation that the theft was in lieu of a bonus.

But the tribunal found his misconduct was serious and the offences had involved false representations and fake documents. They had been committed while being a solicitor.

Mr Davies was admitted in 2014 and was a director of Catherine Higgins Law in Liverpool.

On some 45 occasions, he had diverted funds totalling £13,398 between September 2015 and July 2016. He was convicted of fraud in January 2019.

During that time he duplicated paperwork and created fake policy documents to request money that was paid into his own bank account.

He also gave his clients his own bank details instead of that of his employer for them to pay for services carried out.

Further, Mr Davies diverted money from people’s estates to his own bank account and on one occasion took £540 from the estate of a deceased woman which he disguised as being a payment for funeral costs.

In a victim impact statement, the firm’s managing director, Catherine Higgins, said: “I placed my trust in Greg. I expected him to have the high standards and integrity I would expect from any solicitor. I came to regard Greg as a long-term prospect and hopefully my successor to enable me to eventually retire.

“We would talk and make plans for the future of the business and at no time did I suspect that he was committing fraud at the expense of the firm and our clients.

“When Greg’s criminal behaviour was uncovered I felt numb and sick. When it became clear that Greg had stolen from the firm, the feeling of betrayal was indescribable.”

Sentencing him [1] to 12 months each for attempting to commit fraud by abuse of position and for dishonestly making false representations for gain, the sentences to run concurrently, Her Honour Judge Smith said the fraud had been “perpetrated in a persistent and sophisticated way, involving principally the creation and use of false records and documents.”

The judge added the fraud represented “behaviour wholly at odds with the standards of your profession” and affected his former firm in ways “going beyond purely financial impact”.

The crime had been aggravated by the solicitor’s attempt to frustrate an investigation into his actions by accessing the firm’s IT system remotely.

However, she gave him credit for his lack of previous convictions, psychological reports, his law-abiding conduct since the offences, and an early guilty plea.

In mitigation, the solicitor claimed he had not been paid a bonus yet had worked in stressful conditions, plus he had financial worries.

Approving an agreed outcome, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said that, given the serious nature of the misconduct, a strike-off was “the only appropriate and proportionate sanction”.