An experienced solicitor has been banned from the profession after arranging for a colleague with whom he was having an affair to be the beneficiary of a will.
Anthony Reese Whitwell, a former partner at top 100-firm Penningtons, acted for a client in the drafting of a will from 2011.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that the client, 90 at the time, had been introduced to the firm by an associate solicitor, referred to as Ms F, who was also a long-term family friend and regarded by the client as being like a daughter.
Whitwell, who is married, was in a confidential relationship with Ms F which ended in August 2012, and the two worked in the same department.
The tribunal heard Whitwell, who practised from the firm’s Godalming office, was asked in January 2011 to advise the client in connection with a review of her will. Prior to that date her will included leaving £50,000 to Ms F, as well as smaller amounts to four other parties and the rest to charities.
The tribunal heard another colleague raised concerns about the administration of the client’s estate, after which Whitwell changed the notes of his first meeting with the client on the firm’s computer system. The original version was replaced with an amended version and destroyed, although Whitwell insisted it was done only to make a small change in phrasing.
The typed attendance note now records the client’s instructions, given from her nursing home, were that Ms F should receive as much tax-free cash as possible. Attendance notes also indicate Ms F was present when Whitwell arrived but left the room after introducing him to the client.
The client died in October 2011 and probate was granted at Winchester in January 2012, with Whitwell the sole executor.
Whitwell’s deed split the residual estate into three funds. Once distributions were made, Ms F received £550,000 in cash, jewellery and chattels.
At no point was the nature of Whitwell and Ms F’s relationship disclosed to the client. The relationship ended in August 2012 and he told his wife of the affair soon afterwards. The firm’s compliance officer for legal practice reported the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority later that year, shortly before he left the firm. Ms F resigned from the firm in October 2012.
Whitwell admitted deliberately taking steps, in particular drafting, executing and implementing the deed of appointment, that enabled him to exercise the full and unchallenged power to enrich a person with whom he was in an undisclosed personal relationship.
The tribunal found this was ‘clear evidence’ of Whitwell’s dishonest state of mind at the time.
Whitwell, born in 1958 and admitted to the roll in 1983, also admitted telling material untruths to SRA investigators by falsely claiming he was not responsible for the preparation of a deed of appointment relating to the will. He also caused his solicitor to provide material untruths to an SRA regulatory manager.
Whitwell told the tribunal his focus was now on preserving his improved mental state and rebuilding his relationship with his wife. He no longer wished to practise as a solicitor and said he was ‘ashamed’ of this chapter in his life.
He was struck off the roll of solicitors and ordered to pay £56,500 in costs.