Solicitor who forged documents to fool SRA struck off

SDT: Solicitor forged documents

A solicitor who forged three documents to help him in an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been struck off.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said John Knight, a solicitor at and later director of Yorkshire law firm Wosskow Brown, also forged the dates of legal charges and a mortgage deed after failing meet the deadline for registering them at Companies House, so as to create a new deadline.

Directors Ian David Brown and David Eric Brown were both fined, £25,000 and £35,000 respectively.

The tribunal heard that Mr Knight was a former office junior at the firm, who trained and qualified there in April 2013.

He became the firm’s money laundering reporting officer only six months after qualifying and the head of its property department in September 2015. Later that year Wosskow Brown converted from an LLP to a limited company and Mr Knight became a director. Its authorisation was revoked in July 2017.

He admitted all the allegations against him, including allowing the firm’s client account to be used as a bank account in respect of a care home development project which “bore hallmarks of being a dubious investment scheme” – it offered an annual return to investors of up to 18%.

The SDT said Mr Knight’s culpability was lower for this and another offence involving the misuse of client account as a banking facility because he was “relatively junior and inadequately supervised” during the period May 2014 to November 2015.

However, by the time of the forged documents, “in or about April 2016”, his motivation was “very different” – he was “covering his tracks and acting out of self-interest” and lack of supervision was no excuse.

“The forging of document was clearly planned and he had done it more than once. In one case his intention was to mislead an SRA investigation and in the other it was to mislead Companies House.”

Mr Knight “had undertaken a series of quite deliberate acts of dishonesty and nobody else was involved in that”.

The SDT condemned Ian Brown’s supervision of Mr Knight on the care home project as “abysmal”, particularly because he was also the firm’s COLP and COFA.

His misconduct was aggravated by the fact it continued for 18 months and he ought to have known he was not discharging his duties properly.

Meanwhile, David Brown’s misconduct in allowing the firm’s client account to be used as a banking facility for two further matters was aggravated by the fact he had been fined £10,000 by the tribunal in 2012 for similar misconduct.

The SDT said it “had not been impressed” by the solicitor’s evidence.

“He had given the impression that he did not take matters sufficiently seriously and had made glib assertions about ‘wanting to do the right thing’. The tribunal concluded that he had learnt no lessons from his previous appearance and had no genuine insight.”

Wosskow Brown began acting for a company on the development of a defunct care home in South Yorkshire in May 2014 and on 50 unit leases. The firm received costs of almost £22,000 by September but by February 2015 the company had entered liquidation.

The SDT said over £1.7m was paid out of the firm’s client account for the “continued development” of the care home.

The firm later used its client account as a banking facility again, paying over £230,000 to two separate companies involved in a further development project in South Yorkshire. The client company did not have its own bank account. After this, the firm investigated and reported the matter to the SRA in 2016.

During its investigation, the SRA’s forensic investigation officer received three documents which “purported to be contemporaneous” regarding the care home project.

All were dated October 2014 but Mr Knight later admitted that he had created them on his work computer in April 2016.

Mr Knight was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £19,660.

Ian Brown admitted failing to adequately supervise Mr Knight and, though he denied it, was found to have failed to supervise him in respect of another project which “bore hallmarks of fraud”.

He was fined £25,000 and indefinitely banned from being a COLP or COFA.

David Brown admitted allowing the firm’s client account to be used as a banking facility and was fined £35,000. He was indefinitely banned from holding client money and being a signatory on client account.

Ian and David Brown were ordered to pay costs, on a joint and several basis, of £39,300.

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