A solicitor who submitted a series of false business expenses to his firm – including three that were actually for a 50th birthday dinner for his wife and friends – has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
John Robert Brookes was also found guilty of charging false travel expenses to clients while a solicitor at south London firm Capsticks.
He initially protested his innocence to the firm when it started an internal investigation, only subsequently to admit what he had done. He was then dismissed.
Mr Brookes, who was born in 1961 and admitted in 2010, was found by the SDT to have acted dishonestly.
He admitted that the receipts for 10 expenses claims worth £1,168 – which he had said were for client entertainment – actually came from him or his wife for drinks and/or dinner which they had had, unconnected to work. Three of them, amounting to £400, were for the birthday dinner.
The firm also investigated thousands of pounds of travel expenses that Mr Brookes had billed to clients. The tribunal ruling recorded: “The firm decided that given the circumstances, and the time-consuming nature of trying to establish which expenses had been properly incurred, the appropriate course of action was to refund all money claimed from clients in respect of the Respondent’s expenses for the preceding two years.
“Between May and July 2014, the firm made refunds of £9,100.31 to 21 clients with a further payment of £426 being made on 25 March 2015.”
The tribunal noted that the solicitor had charged for travel expenses to client meetings on dates when no such meeting took place, and also for multiple tickets on the same date, generally for journeys at or around the same time.
Mr Brookes did not appear before the tribunal, but in a letter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority last year accepted responsibility for his actions and apologised “to those whose confidence I have lost”.
He said that at the time that the actions were taken, he was trying to address a number of personal issues, including the breakdown of his marriage.
The SDT said: “He accepted that such issues did not excuse the actions that he took and nor should they have affected his professional conduct or result in his taking any action which would result in his failing to meet the principles required for the profession.”
Deciding to strike him off, the SDT said Mr Brookes “had clearly been motivated by financial gain”.
It continued: “The respondent was an experienced solicitor, who had taken dishonest steps, and who when first questioned about his claims, had sought to deny any impropriety. The respondent’s conduct had also involved a degree of planning; he had obtained receipts and then billed them to a number of client files… The tribunal found the respondent’s conduct to be aggravated by his proven dishonesty.”
Though accepting that Mr Brookes had previously had a “successful and unblemished career”, that he had shown insight into his misconduct, and that he had been “going through a difficult time” at the time of the misconduct, the SDT said that “the only appropriate and proportionate sanction” was to strike him off.