A former judge and solicitor and his ex-lover have been jailed for six years after being found guilty of stealing more than £600,000 of client cash from a law firm they set up.

Simon Kenny, a former district judge in Sussex, and his partner at the time Emma Coates, a legal executive, plundered £692,000 worth of customers’ funds at a solicitors firm in West Sussex over four years.

Southwark Crown Court heard that 60-year-old Kenny used funds to ensure the running of the firm while Coates, 47, used the cash to fund her lavish lifestyle — including a £27,000 trip to Barbados for her and her friends and expense-laden days at Cheltenham Festival.

She also paid off four mortgages, spent £15,000 on a log cabin and hot tub, and bought a Range Rover.

The pair were originally due to be sentenced for stealing in excess of £900,000 from client accounts but £200,000 was wiped off that figure following a discrepancy.

The court heard that an associate of Kenny, George White, had loaned the firm £200,000 — it was paid into a client account but it was not client money.

Sentencing the pair, His Honour Judge Peter Testar said he could base the case only on money that belonged to clients. Abusing client accounts was a ‘serious breach of trust’ and would damage trust in the solicitors profession, he said. 

The court also heard that Kenny had told his accountant Robert Foskett, who had noticed a shortfall when doing the accounts, that he had moved clients’ money offshore to avoid repercussions from the Northern Rock banking crisis.

Foskett, apparently unable to deal with the grief of discovering the fraud and that he had been lied to, took his own life in 2011.

Testar said that although Kenny was the sole owner of CK firm, he and Coates were 'to all intents and purposes joint owners’. CK Solicitors, which has no connection with the firm of the same name in Leyton, East London, was closed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2012.

Although Kenny did not use funds for his personal life he was complicit in allowing Coates to do so. Testar said Coates had an instinct for 'excess and extravagance’ and saw the cash as ‘there for the taking’.

A third defendant, 60-year-old Stephen Hiseman, a fee-earner at the former CK Solicitors, was also found guilty of two counts of fraud. His sentencing was adjourned.

The trio were charged by police in April 2014, after detectives from the Sussex Police major fraud unit began investigating the firm over the alleged disappearance of around £900,000 from client accounts.

In a statement, Naheed Hussain, deputy head of the Crown Prosecution Service  specialist fraud division, said: ‘The prosecution showed how Simon Kenny and Emma Coates fraudulently took five-figure sums from their firm’s clients, including £85,000 from the will of an elderly woman. Through detailed analysis of the financial transactions, prosecutors and investigators were able to present a compelling case to the jury which resulted in these convictions.’