Two brothers at a North London firm said to be revered in the community have each been stopped from practising - one permanently so - over client account breaches.
Petros Petrou, from the Petrou Law Partnership, was struck off the roll after admitting to acting recklessly overcharging in his role as executor of estates and borrowing £100,000 from the client account to cover shortages on another account. By the end of January 2019, investigators found a minimum cash shortage of almost £500,000.
His partner and brother Stylianos was found to have failed to have prevented Petros from taking advantage of estates and allowed this conduct to go unnoticed and unchecked. He was suspended for a year and indefinite restrictions placed on his practising certificate.
Both sanctions were issued by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after an agreed outcome.
The tribunal ruled that Petros Petrou’s culpability was very high, and although dishonesty was not admitted or proved, he had admitted to very serious recklessness, lack of integrity and manifest incompetence in his handling of client money. Misconduct was described as ‘endemic’ and reflected a significant and prolonged breach of trust.
The tribunal said his improper borrowing from one client was planned and that, by significantly overcharging on two estates, he abused his position of trust.
In mitigation, the solicitor of more than 25 years recognised that running the business was ‘not his forte’ and it was clear that the practice failed because of the resulting disorganisation and chaos. He never intended to cause any client loss or distress but had become overwhelmed with his workload and was effectively running the firm alone.
Stylianos admitted he failed to be ‘sufficiently active’ in ensuring the firm’s accounts were properly managed, and he accepted he should have been more pro-active in reconciling the accounts. He had no direct knowledge that any of the payments and transfers being made would give rise to shortages. When he was told the situation by his brother they immediately took steps to remedy the shortages, which were eventually replaced. The pair will pay £40,000 towards SRA costs.