Solicitor took £2m of client money in pursuit of “lottery win”

SDT: Solicitor suffering from a serious mental illness

A former senior partner who plundered £2m from his firm’s client accounts as well as both private and charitable trusts after falling victim to a lottery scam has been thrown out of the profession.

Hugh Peter Lansdell said he expected to use the winnings to repay the money, which he had spent on ‘fees’ charged to release them.

Mr Lansdell was born in 1949 and admitted in 1975, and spent 27 years as a partner at Norwich-based Hansells – currently a 10-partner firm with eight offices around Norfolk – and was senior partner from 2014.

According to an agreed outcome between Mr Lansdell and the Solicitors Regulation Authority – which was approved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal – the lost money has been made good by his former partners in Hansells and their professional indemnity insurers.

The outcome said that, around Easter 2015, Mr Lansdell received a letter, purportedly from the promoters of a lottery, which advised that him that he had won £825,000.

He contacted them and was told the letter was wrong, and that he had actually won £1.8m.

In fact, it was just a fraud to obtain “substantial payments in respect of supposed fees which he needed to pay in order to secure the release of his winnings”, the tribunal was told.

Between August 2015 and July 2017, 59 payments totalling £1.49m were made from the client accounts of 29 client matters at Mr Lansdell’s request.

Only two were not to pay the lottery fees. One was a £31,000 payment to a client who had brought a claim for criminal injuries compensation which had not been progressed by Mr Lansdell, where the maximum compensation which could be awarded for an injury of the type suffered by the client was only £3,000.

The second, a payment of £44,625, was the repayment of a private loan which Mr Lansdell had taken from a friend to pay a lottery fee.

In his role at Hansells, Mr Lansdell also acted as an intermediary between investment management company Charles Stanley and two personal and two charity trusts whose portfolio of assets it managed.

He instructed Charles Stanley to sell investments from three of the trusts, and he made payments from the proceeds of sale, and other payments, again all for fees required to procure the release of his lottery winnings. These totalled nearly £500,000.

Lastly, Mr Lansdell made some relatively small payments from the personal bank accounts of two clients for whom he held a lasting personal of attorney.

Hansells first became suspicious about the way in which Mr Lansdell was dealing with client money in April 2017, when a solicitor reported concerns about an investment which Mr Lansdell had made in relation to a matter on which that solicitor had done some work.

Mr Lansdell falsely told the firm that the payments were for a risk-free investment scheme to which he had been introduced by his sister-in-law.

He was suspended from the partnership in August 2017 and then admitted that he had become involved in a lottery scam. In November 2017, Mr Lansdell was made bankrupt.

Mr Lansdell admitted his misconduct and that he had acted dishonestly. In mitigation – which he accepted would not justify reducing the sanction from a strike-off – he pointed to his hitherto unblemished record as a solicitor.

Further, he said he genuinely believed he had won a substantial prize in a lottery, and “his intention was always to replace the sums which he had misappropriated once that prize was finally received”.

Also, at the time, he said he was suffering from a serious mental illness.

A psychologist’s report said: “Mr Lansdell’s description of his mental condition during the most recent period of intense stress would seem to indicate that he became very absorbed and overly focused on the success of the company.

“He appears to have developed an overvalued belief in both the power of prayer and the guidance of God, which then informed his interpretation of unfolding events and his decision making. He describes praying frequently throughout the day, feeling the need to pray even when he left his desk for a period of time.

“Prayer seems to have developed a compulsive and reinforcing quality such that he was unable to function without the relief from anxiety that it afforded him.

“Unfortunately, it would seem that the overvalued belief in the guidance of God resulted in an inability to think rationally about the unfolding situation and led him to make some very serious errors of judgment.”

Mr Lansdell also agreed to pay costs of £27,000.

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