SRA bans non-solicitors for theft, fabrication and forgery

Signature: Conveyancer could not complete without one

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has banned a string of non-solicitors from working in the profession for dishonesty, including theft, fabricating letters and faking a client’s signature.

The regulator has issued orders under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974, which enable it to prohibit a non-solicitor from having any role at a law firm without its permission.

Between 2006 and January 2020, Tina Portillo was employed as a bookkeeper by both Theaker Loadsman & Reynolds and the registered sole practice of Mr Loadsman, Cockburn Gostling, in Hove

The SRA said she took money from both firms’ office accounts without authorisation and used it for her own benefit.

She also made an improper client to office transfer without which a loan payment of Cockburn Gostling could not have been made.

Stuart Ashpole was a facilities manager at Bristol firm Barcan & Kirby, where his role included ordering electronic devices for business use. He paid using a company credit card.

During a routine audit, the firm identified that some of the electronic devices that he had ordered were missing. At a disciplinary meeting, Mr Ashpole admitted ordering additional devices which he then sold for personal gain. He was summarily dismissed.

In 2017, he pleaded guilty to an offence under the Theft Act 1968 and was given a prison sentence of 16 weeks, suspended for 12 months. He was also ordered to carry out supervised unpaid work for 120 hours and pay compensation of £5,000.

Catherine McNicholas (nee Pasco) was a conveyancing assistant by Fairbrother & Darlow in Bracknell for 14 years until the start of 2021.

It was found that she fabricated three letters purportedly from the firm along with an invoice for £720.

The SRA notice said: “These contained false and misleading information and were used in connection with a legal dispute between a family member and a third party. The letters and invoice were provided to the third party and the court.”

Katherine Broadbent was a chartered legal executive in the residential department at Sills & Betteridge in Lincoln last year.

Acting on a property purchase, the sellers’ solicitors told her on the day of completion that the transaction could not go ahead until they had received a title plan signed by her clients.

Ms Broadbent knew she could not get the signatures that day and so signed the title plan herself using one of her clients’ signatures and sent it to the sellers’ solicitors.

She was dismissed when the firm became aware of what she had done, and later admitted to the SRA that her conduct was dishonest.

Finally, Laurence Ives, who was jailed in 2020 for four years after a police raid discovered 6,000 indecent images of children on his computer and other devices, has also been made subject to a section 43 order.

He had been head of business development at leading defendant law firm Plexus Law in Leeds, which dismissed him immediately upon being informed of his conviction and sentence.

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