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Putting the firm before the client.

An ex-solicitor has been jailed for stealing over £200,000 from a disabled client to try to keep his firm afloat.

Robert Wiggans was a senior partner at a West Yorkshire firm Hellewell, Pasley and Brewer, and was the firm's compliance officer for finance and administration.

In 2001, the Court of Protection appointed Wiggans to deal with the financial affairs of a client who needed 24-hour care after becoming severely disabled, due to a medical negiligence incident. Wiggans managed the compensation payout awarded to the client.

In 2016, Wiggans took a light-fingered approach by making two transactions totalling £160,000 from the woman's account into his own account. He then used the funds to make payments to pay staff's wages and tax bills, it was reported.  

The SRA discovered the fraudulent transactions in 2017, and intervened to close down the firm. The disciplinary tribunal struck Wiggans off the roll of solicitors, the following year. 

Wiggans admitted misappropriating £160,000, when interviewed by the police. He told the officers that he had intended to repay the money, and was not aware of any further unauthorised withdrawals. However, an investigation revealed another 22 fraudulent transactions, in 2015 and 2016, of an additional £66,000.

The dodgy solicitor pleaded guilty at the Leeds Crown Court to three counts of fraud. 

"None of the money was repaid in to the client’s account and he did not have the consent of the family," prosecutor Heather Gilmour told the court.

In mitigation, Wiggans' barrister said the firm's money problems started after the financial crisis in 2007, and that Wiggans had borrowed £250,000 from his parents in 2015 to try to prop up the firm - but those funds were swallowed up.

"The offending was carried out in attempt to save the business and the money was not used to fund a luxury lifestyle", Wiggans' barrister told the court. "The defendant has subsequently lost the profession that he loved. He has nothing left and accepts that the court will have to impose a custodial sentence."

Judge Neil Clark lambasted Wiggans, saying: "This was the most terrible breach of trust. You sacrificed the needs of your client to satisfy the needs of the business.”

The court jailed the former solicitor for two years and four months.

Tip Off ROF


Anonymous 11 June 21 10:47

If your business is failing, speak to the SRA and an insolvency practitioner with experience of working with legal services firms.  Be honest with both and if your firm cannot be rescued, you walk away leaving your client account in the safe hands of a new firm and keeping your professional integrity intact. Not rocket science.

Anonymous 11 June 21 11:40

ROF - can you please investigate further as I would like to know if funds have been recovered for the vulnerable lady. Hopefully she has received recompense from insurers or elsewhere. 

Anonymous 12 June 21 07:46

No further investigation needed, Anon above. There will have been a surety bond in place as a requirement of the order appointing the deputy.  The bond provider will cover the loss to the extent of the level of the bond.  The firm’s PI insurance will also be involved.

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