A Burnley solicitor has been struck off after misusing more than £400,000 of client money to support her struggling firm.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Kimberley Bridge tried to conceal a £186,000 shortfall on a client account at her firm, SFN Solicitors of Burnley, by creating a fictitious property sale.
She then claimed she was taking the lender to court for failing to send through the mortgage money.
By August 2012, payments totalling £714,000 had not been allocated to the correct clients and it was discovered that £232,000 of this had been paid into Bridge’s personal account.
The SRA eventually discovered a shortage of £418,000 resulting from a number of improper transactions, including a payment of £27,000 from the client account to pay council tax on a property the firm owned.
At a hearing on Tuesday, the SDT struck off Bridge for nine counts of dishonesty and ordered that her sister, Nicola Roach, who worked at SFN Solicitors as a clerk, be barred from working in a law firm without permission for four counts of dishonesty.
In a case brought by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the tribunal found 19 allegations proven against Bridge, including failing to act in the best interests of clients, failing to act with integrity and making improper withdrawals from the client account. It also found 10 similar allegations proven against Roach.
John McNabb and Tracy Stansfield, partners at the firm, also had 10 allegations against them found proven after failing to, among other breaches, protect client money and assets. They were fined £2,000 and reprimanded.
Neither was involved in the misuse.
The SRA closed down SFN Solicitors in January 2013 once the matter was discovered. As well as striking Bridge from the roll, the SDT ordered her to pay costs of £31,947.85 jointly with Ms Roach.
McNabb and Stansfield were ordered to pay £8,420 costs each.
In passing the sanctions, the SDT said: ‘This is a very sad but disturbing case. Mrs Bridge and Ms Roach deliberately and systematically defrauded everyone around them, including Mr McNabb and Mrs Stansfield. Neither Mr McNabb nor Mrs Stansfield derived benefit, and indeed suffered enormous loss.’
Gordon Ramsay, SRA director for legal and enforcement, added: ‘In Mrs Bridge’s case, she misused significant sums of clients’ money that had been entrusted to her. The consequences for these clients could have been devastating. Striking her off was clearly appropriate, as is the order banning Ms Roach from working in a solicitors firm without permission.’