A solicitor who fraudulently claimed £37,000 in income tax repayments has been struck off.
Dianna Lee, also known as Dianna Gerald, was handed a suspended prison sentence two years ago and told she was “wholly unsuitable to be a solicitor”.
Ms Lee, born in 1967 and admitted in 2007, was a family law solicitor and company director of Family Law Consultants Limited, trading as Simply Solicitors in Cheltenham and Worcester.
She was found to have falsified information on her 2009 and 2010 income tax returns to over-claim tax repayments. She did this by inflating expenses, including staff costs and refunds relating to clients’ divorce fees, and fabricated invoices, letters and an employment contract to support the claims.
HM Revenue & Customs compliance officers discovered that the figures shown on her business records did not match those declared on her tax returns.
She was found guilty of four counts of fraud by false representation after a 12-day trial at Manchester Crown Court, and sentenced to 21 months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and 200 hours unpaid work. She was also given an 18-month supervision order and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. An appeal was unsuccessful.
The trial judge, His Honour Judge Steiger QC, said Ms Lee had gone to “great lengths” to defraud the Revenue – including generating bogus documents – and attacked the character and reputation of her fellow partners and employees.
“In my judgment her behaviour throughout, on the face of it, was completely disgraceful. She is, in my view, wholly unsuitable to be a solicitor.”
However, because Ms Lee’s conduct had been “so bizarre in many respects”, the judge commissioned reports from two psychologists.
HHJ Steiger said: “Unbeknown to counsel (or indeed anybody else in the trial), it turns out the defendant has been suffering gravely from mental health issues for upwards of 20 years.” One of the psychiatrists even suggested Ms Lee was close to requiring compulsory detention for treatment.
“The defendant’s behaviour – shocking, deceitful, dishonest and discreditable as it was – may well have been informed by these longstanding medical issues,” the judge observed.
Despite these health issues, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal concluded that it had to strike off Ms Lee: “Allowing [her] name to remain on the roll would have a significantly detrimental effect on the public confidence in the reputation of the legal profession.”
She was also ordered to pay costs of £4,000. Though she had told the tribunal that she was living off benefits, she had not provided evidence to support this.