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Solicitor struck off after child pornography and cannabis convictions

SDT: Extremely serious misconduct

A solicitor convicted of making indecent images of children and producing cannabis has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Andrew McNeill, who received a suspended sentence, said he grew cannabis plants at home because he “did not enjoy buying from drug dealers”.

Approving a statement of agreed facts and outcome between Mr McNeill and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the tribunal said it regarded his misconduct as “extremely serious”.

Mr McNeill, admitted in 1995, worked at Frisby & Small in Leicester until May 2019.

Police searched his home in February 2019 and found five cannabis plants of varying stages of maturity in his garage.

Cannabis “prepared for personal use” was discovered in his house, but there was no evidence of dealing or conspiracy to supply drugs.

Meanwhile, Mr McNeill’s tablet was taken away and found to contain 23 indecent videos of children.

Interviewed by Leicestershire Police in July 2019, the solicitor provided a prepared statement admitting the offences and then “gave no comment to all questions asked”, the statement said.

The following summer he was convicted of three counts of making indecent photographs of a child and one count of producing a controlled class B drug.

He was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, fined £150 and put on the sex offenders register for 10 years.

Mr McNeill said in non-agreed mitigation that, “from the moment that the police came”, he knew his career as a solicitor would be over.

“I applied to remove my name from the roll, with the intention of thereby saving the costs and trouble involved in a referral to this tribunal.

“However, the SRA declined my application, even though I said that I would be happy to undertake not to ever apply for my name to be restored.”

The solicitor said he admitted to his wife that he had downloaded “a number of indecent images of children” to his tablet after the police search and left the family home the same day.

His wife, who has two children from her first marriage, spoke to them and they “confirmed to her that they had never experienced any sexual abuse or contact from me, and that neither had any suspicion that I had been viewing indecent images”. His wife later allowed him to return to the family.

Mr McNeill said that, after his family, his next concern was mitigating the effect of his actions on colleagues and clients.

“I thought that it would be best if I could put as much distance as possible between me and my firm, so that it would be insulated from any adverse effects that might follow from any publicity around my inevitable conviction.”

He said that within two weeks of the police visit, he had resigned.

Mr McNeill said he referred himself to a charity which works with people “having trouble with their sexual thoughts and activities” and undertook both individual and group counselling.

“In relation to the cannabis, I did not enjoy buying from drug dealers and in 2018, I successfully grew two small cannabis plants in my back garden.

“The success of this led me to try a slightly more ambitious grow, and to do so inside. When the police visited, I admitted my sole responsibility for growing the plants.”

Mr McNeill was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £1,290.