Sunday, 22 November 2015

Book Keeper Who Nicked Nearly £1/4M From Solicitor's Firm Is Jailed

A book-keeper, who stole £234,000 from a solicitor's firm to finance his daughters' private-school education, fund expensive holidays and and pay-off his mortgage, was jailed for three years and four months on Friday.

Ian Emmanuel Thomas, 53, of Kither Road, Ashford, Kent paid pre-signed cheques into his bank account over a seven-year period while employed at Croydon's Cook & Partners.

He pleaded guilty at Inner London Crown Court to stealing the sum between March 10, 2003 and August 10, 2010, plus one count of false accounting.

It's got to be prison,” announced Judge Owen Davies. “Clearly this was a breach of trust.

The fraud was extremely simple. Pre-signed cheques were filled-out by you to yourself because you wanted to send your daughters to a good school, have holidays and pay off the mortgage on your home.

The fraud was only discovered because of a new system adopted by the firm of solicitors and the effect against the firm has been devastating.”

Prosecutor Mr. Shaun Espirit told the court first-time offender Thomas, who worked at the firm since 1986, was found out in 2010.

He was trusted to pay suppliers and the VAT bill by cheque, but the defendant would fill-in the stub to pay, say HMRC, but paid it into his own bank account.”

Thomas was sacked after admitting to taking money for just two years, but when questioned by police in 2012 he tried to cast blame on the firm's office manager and claimed his innocence until day one of the trial.

They were extremely annoyed someone they trusted was stealing money from them and this has had a major impact on the solicitor's firm.”

The firm faced conduct proceedings before the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) and was fined £15,000, with £15,000 costs and one of the partners, Ian Douglas, - said to be suffering “acute and chronic stress” - is facing bankruptcy as a result.

The second partner, Christopher Cook, has had treatment for depression. “It has had a major impact on his health,” added Mr. Espirit.

The partners won a County Court Judgment against Thomas and he has paid them £260,000 compensation.

His lawyer, Mr. Azize Chelliah, told the court the SRA have to give their permission for Thomas to be ever employed by a solicitor's firm again. “He will not be able to work as a book keeper in the future.”

He urged the court to follow the probation service's recommendation of a suspended sentence with community service work, but Judge Davies said: “That's completely unrealistic, the offence is much to serious. Clearly a breach of trust was involved.”

The judge told Thomas: “You blamed a person who was blameless and the nightmare of every solicitor is being taken to the SRA.”

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