An experienced Court of Protection solicitor has been banned after making improper transfers from the accounts of vulnerable clients.
Susan Louise Lowe attempted to blame others for her misconduct but was found to have acted dishonestly following a two-day hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last month.
Lowe was alleged to have misappropriated £170,000 between August 2011 and October 2014 from deputyship accounts relating to four individuals for whom she had been appointed as a deputy by the Court of Protection.
She was also charged with making an untrue statement to the SRA concerning the firm’s books, and creating a backdated memo containing an untrue record of her dealings with client money.
Lowe, a solicitor for 20 years, practised on her own account at Bedfordshire firm Lowe & Co.
An initial investigation into the firm in 2014 recommended no further action be taken, but a further inspection of the books in 2016 revealed a £60,000 shortage on the client account, as well as £222,000 costs taken without having been assessed, as required under her deputyship.
Not only did she make unauthorised loans weeks after a client’s death, but she attempted to cover up what had happened. She did not finalise the estate accounts; told the client’s nephew she was unable to trace a copy of the final account on the firm’s system; and misled the Office of the Public Guardian.
Lawyers for Lowe had explained to the SRA she had been mourning the loss of her father in law during the period in question, and she maintained all payments could be separately verified and properly attributed. Nevertheless the firm was subject to intervention in February 2017.
Giving evidence to the tribunal, she said a number of the relevant transactions had been carried out by the firm’s cashier. She accepted taking costs from one estate in advance, without producing a bill, to complete a project to refurbish the client’s property. Lowe had repaid the sums taken without authorisation, although the SRA maintained this did not mean the allegation of lack of integrity could not be proved.
The tribunal said Lowe was experienced in this field and fully familiar with all the relevant rules and procedures. There was no evidence to suggest the memo was created by anyone other than Lowe, and instead she had likely produced it to either convince the accounts department that transfers were proper, or to satisfy SRA investigators. The tribunal found dishonesty proved with regard to three allegations.
The judgment added: ‘The dishonesty was very serious, as it involved the misuse of funds belonging to vulnerable clients for whom [Lowe] had been in a position of trust.’
Lowe was struck off the roll of solicitors and ordered to pay £15,392 costs.