Solicitor who forged trustees’ signatures struck off

SDT: Ingrained behaviour

A solicitor who used forged cheques from trustees or money from another client to cover up the fact she had failed to submit tax returns on time has been struck off.

Susan Hartley admitted acting dishonestly to conceal the fact of tax penalties from clients, with the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) saying her misconduct had become “ingrained”.

There was no benefit to her from her actions “save for keeping her jobs”.

The SDT heard that Ms Hartley, admitted in 1986, was instructed to manage trusts for a client, ‘RABS’, when she was working for Last Suddards from 1986 to 1988.

She went on to work as a salaried partner for Last & Company between 1988 and 1998, and then at Gordons from 1998 to 2003, where she was appointed a trustee of the MEF Trust.

Ms Hartley moved to KBL Solicitors as an associate in 2004, taking the MEF Trust with her as a client.

There, she used £8,900 from another client (the TM Will Trust) in 2013 to pay a debt the MEF Will Trust owed to HM Revenue & Customs.

In an agreed outcome with Ms Hartley approved by the SDT, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said that she moved to a new post as an associate at JWP Solicitors shortly afterwards.

She falsified the signatures of trustees to the RABS trusts on two cheques to HMRC, one for £2,900 in September 2015, the other for just over £3,500 in April 2016.

Ms Hartley then moved to Eatons Solicitors as an associate in 2018, where she admitted the previous misconduct to her employers in January 2020 and was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The SRA said her confession was triggered by a request from a law firm for the trust documents for RABS, because it was dealing with the probate following his death.

Ms Hartley told Eatons that the motivation for her misconduct had been to “conceal the fact of tax penalties that had accrued on the trusts from the clients”. She “neglected to deal with the self-assessment returns on the trusts as other work had taken priority”.

Eatons contacted the SRA and later confirmed that it had rectified the loss to the TM Will Trust.

The SDT said: “Whilst the misconduct had been deliberate, there was no apparent financial gain for Ms Hartley other than to cover up the fact she had not acted in a timely way when dealing with client matters.

“The misconduct was replicated over many years and in different places where she had worked, and it had become ingrained behaviour on her part.”

She was struck off and ordered to pay costs of £5,000.

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