A solicitor who ‘threatened, manipulated and groomed’ a long-standing client who he knew had severe health problems has been struck off the roll.
In a judgment published this week the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found sole practitioner Neil Aiston liable for serious dishonesty. He was ordered to pay costs of £63,993.
Aiston persuaded his vulnerable client (referred to as Client 3) to make an unsecured loan of £175,000 to Client 1. However, Client 3 did not know that the money was then to go back to Aiston to fill a hole in his own client account. Sole practioner Aiston was in urgent need of funds as he was facing an intervention into his firm, the judgment said.
The money was never repaid. The tribunal said in terms of culpability Aiston’s actions were at the ’highest level of seriousness’. 'He had been a family solicitor to client 3 and his family for 40 years. He knew how much trust was placed in him and has exploited that trust,’ it said.
Client 3 said he felt ‘threatened, manipulated and groomed’ by Aiston and that he signed the loan document under duress.
The tribunal noted that Client 3 was out of pocket to the tune of £175,000 and that there was ‘inevitable harm to the reputation of the profession’. It added: ‘The respondent lacked insight and blamed everyone but himself for his failings’.
Aiston was also found liable for account rule breaches and failing in his duties as the chief officer for legal compliance.
Aiston qualified 1979 and was a sole practitioner in Croydon.
He was not present for the hearing but in a statement included in the judgment he said he apologised ‘unreservedly’ to the affected clients. ‘For over 40 years I have always tried to do the best I can for my clients and I will always regret my actions in January 2015 and the mistakes I made towards the end of my career and how my career came to an end.’