A veteran solicitor who borrowed £25,000 from a client to help prop up his firm and then tried to hide it from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as fees paid on account has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) described as “extraordinary” and “utterly preposterous” the efforts by Christopher Michael Haddock to discredit the evidence against him.
The 72-year-old, who qualified in 2000, ran Haddock & Co in Halifax and in November 2017 accepted the loan from client Andrew Bell. Mr Bell drew down the money from his mortgage account and Mr Haddock was repay it within six months and also cover the interest due. This did not happen.
The money was paid into the firm’s client account and then transferred to office account. Two months later, Mr Haddock drafted a backdated agreement which portrayed it as being on account of legal fees and maintained that position before the tribunal.
However, the SDT preferred the evidence of emails, testimony from Mr Bell and his wife, and a secret recording she made of a meeting with Mr Haddock, in finding it was a loan.
The SDT recorded: “The SRA’s case was that Mr Haddock had come to regard Mr Bell as a close friend and that, upon Mr Bell noticing some paperwork relating to debts in Mr Haddock’s office, had offered to loan him some money.”
The SDT heard that the money was loaned at a time when the firm’s overdraft facility was close to its £110,000 limit. The loan was clearly discussed in emails and during the recorded meeting.
The SDT said: “It was clear that the relationship between the Mr Bell and Mr Haddock had been hot and cold. It was also plain that Mr Bell had a number of ongoing cases and he would have needed Mr Haddock to be at his best.
“In that context it was entirely plausible that he had offered him a loan by way of assistance.”
It would have been “extraordinary for Mr Haddock to have allowed erroneous references to a loan to pass unchallenged in several items of correspondence”, while “Mr Haddock’s suggestion that the conversation recorded by Mrs Bell was part of some charade to fool her was utterly preposterous”.
The SDT said accepting the loan was a “clear conflict of interest”. It explained: “The tribunal considered it completely unethical to have taken a loan from Mr Bell. Solicitors should not take loans from their clients as it automatically created, at the very least, a significant risk of a conflict of interests.”
As a result, receiving the money into client account where there was no link to any instructions or underlying transaction was in breach of the accounts rules and dishonest as Mr Haddock was trying to conceal the fact it was a loan. Producing the agreement was dishonest too.
In mitigation, his counsel argued that Mr Haddock was approaching the end of his career. He wanted to limit his work to appearing as a higher court advocate in the criminal courts and sought stringent conditions on his practice.
Counsel submitted that this episode was a “blip” that had “occurred spontaneously in the context of a relationship that had overtaken Mr Haddock”.
But the SDT disagreed. Mr Bel had suffered “significant financial loss”, while “in terms of the reputation of the profession, the tribunal considered that the public would be shocked that a solicitor could behave in such a way”.
It struck him off and made no order for costs. It would have ordered him to pay the SRA’s claimed costs of £29,000 but for Mr Haddock’s limited resources. He was still liable for a ‘bounce back’ loan and had an overdraft secured against his property of £109,000. The firm owed more than £350,000.
The SDT said: “Mr Haddock was not currently working and given his age and the sanction imposed, the prospect of a return to long-term highly paid employment was remote…
“The tribunal concluded that there was no realistic prospect of a costs order being satisfied at all and certainly not without creating a burden on Mr Haddock for the rest of his life.”