A man who deleted emails to his wife, a fellow solicitor and co-owner of their firm, to try and hide an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), has been struck off.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said James Huxtable’s motivation was to “hide the firm’s financial distress and the chaos into which his accounts had descended” from his wife, Kamal.
The tribunal heard that Mr Huxtable, admitted in 1999, was co-director and COFA of Absolute Legal in Surbiton, which closed in March 2020. Mrs Huxtable was co-director and COLP.
The SRA said it was contacted by the buyers of ‘Property A’ in May 2019, who said they were getting letters from the local council relating to planning breaches and that the property had not been registered at the Land Registry.
The regulator wrote to Mrs Huxtable, in her capacity as the COLP, about Property A in August 2019.
She later told the SRA that she believed her husband deleted this email, and a follow-up email two months later, to avoid her finding out that the SRA had started an investigation.
Mrs Huxtable said she did not see anything from the SRA until its investigation officer arrived at the firm’s offices in March 2020.
The officer found that there was £50,000 missing from the firm’s client account in relation to two matters, there were no available client account reconciliations, the client ledgers were inaccurate and out-of-date and the firm had failed to obtain any accountants’ reports since 2014.
The officer was “informed that Mr Huxtable was not available and it was not known where he was”. The SDT said the solicitor was aware of the proceedings against him but did not engage with the process.
But in an earlier interview with the SRA, he indicated he had used the £50,000 to pay a tax liability.
The tribunal found that Mr Huxtable had used money for a purpose not permitted under the accounts rules, failed to keep accounting records or carry out reconciliations and failed to obtain accountants’ reports. In doing so, he had acted recklessly.
Mr Huxtable admitted to the SRA deleting emails to avoid his wife finding out about the investigation.
The tribunal found that he had acted dishonestly by doing this, and “deliberately prevented both the SRA’s ability to contact Mrs Huxtable by email about matters it was considering and deliberately prevented Mrs Huxtable being afforded the opportunity to respond and co-operate with the SRA”.
His motivation had been “to hide the firm’s financial distress and the chaos into which his accounts had descended, and to conceal the SRA’s investigation from his wife”.
The tribunal went on: “This may have started as something spontaneous, but it became a deliberate course of action which spiralled away from Mr Huxtable.
“Mr Huxtable had abused the trust placed in him by his clients to look after their money. Due to the poor state of the accounts, it was not possible to determine whether all the money due to his clients had been returned.”
It appeared that the solicitor “had made no attempt to pay back the lost funds and he had abdicated this responsibility to his wife”. She has repaid £40,000, made up of £13,000 in office money and £27,000 from her own funds.
Mr Huxtable was struck off the roll and ordered to pay costs of £18,500.