A solicitor who abused his position as the executor of an estate and stole £275,000 from it to spend on an “excessive lifestyle” has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Andrew Eastham has already served jail time for his actions, having been sentenced to two years and eight months’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to fraud by abuse of position contrary to section 4 of the Fraud Act 2006.
He was convicted at Wolverhampton Crown Court in October 2017 and sentenced a year later. In July 2019, he was made subject to a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
The tribunal approved an agreed outcome put forward by Mr Eastham and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which only discovered what had happened when its media team came across a news report in January 2019.
Mr Eastham was on the roll of solicitors at the time but not practising, having been indefinitely suspended back in 2007 for accounts rules breaches.
Client A’s will was executed in the early 1990s, naming his son as the primary beneficiary and niece as a contingent beneficiary. Mr Eastham, who qualified in 1980, and another solicitor at his then firm were named executors.
When Client A died in 2014, the son and the second executor had died, and Mr Eastham was no longer practising as a solicitor.
He obtained the grant of probate and paid the £287,000 sitting in five different bank accounts into his personal account. He then made a payment of £7,500 to Client A’s niece.
She reported the matter to the police a few months later as Mr Eastham stopped communicating with her.
The police found that, between August 2014 and August 2015, despite having no other source of income except £94,000 from his pension, Mr Eastham had given his former wife £149,000, withdrawn cash of £120,000, paid £5,000 to debt companies and spent £55,000 in leading what the police described as an “excessive lifestyle”.
He admitted misappropriating the estate but claimed he had loaned £260,000 to his ex-wife and had intended to give the money to the beneficiary when she repaid it. However, his ex-wife did not do so.
The loss was calculated at £275,000 on the basis that Mr Eastham would have been entitled to charge £5,000 for his work.
The sentencing judge said it should have been a “simple and straightforward” task to pass the estate to Client A’s niece as it was below the level at which duties were payable.
“[The beneficiary] had been concerned about you acting as executor… but by letter and a visit you reassured her. She trusted you. You abused that trust and she has gone on to lose almost the whole of the monies to which she was due from her uncle.”
The judge said the starting point for sentencing would have risen as a result but for Mr Eastham’s lack of previous convictions, “obvious remorse”, full co-operation with the investigation, early admissions and making of a statement which would have been used in the prosecution of his co-accused.
According to press reports from the time, his ex-wife was to have been prosecuted too but her psychiatric condition meant she was not fit to stand trial and she never entered a plea.