A former partner with listed firm Gateley has been banned from the profession for a year for accepting a £2,500 gift from a client into his personal bank account without declaring it.
Almost a year later, Dean Copley then emailed the property developer who had made the payment, requesting a further benefit for introducing them to a business partner.
Copley was dismissed in 2018 after the firm found out about the gift and the subsequent email, which was sent from his personal address. Copley said he was unaware of any duty to disclose the gift to his employer and maintained that his request for a further fee was supposed to be a payment for the firm – albeit he accepted that the wording could be seen as seeking a financial benefit.
Copley was banned for 12 months after agreeing the outcome with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The tribunal heard that Copley, admitted in 1988, had received training about the firm’s code of conduct, which included a requirement to keep a written record of any gifts worth more than £250. However he received the £2,500 into his own account in January 2016 and failed to tell anyone at the firm. In December 2016, he then sent the email requesting a ‘benefit’ for having provided instructions, explaining that he was using a personal account due to his potential embarrassment if the response was negative.
Copley’s contract was terminated in 2018 following an internal investigation and he was reported to the regulator the following day.
The SRA said that an employed solicitor, approaching a client for payment over and above that already agreed with his firm, would damage the public’s trust in the profession.
In mitigation not endorsed by the SRA, Copley said this was a single incident and isolated error. He continued to maintain he believed he was entitled to receive the money, but he had since shown genuine insight into his actions. He pointed out these allegations had been hanging over him since 2018 and he had already suffered enormously because of this matter.
He agreed to the suspension and to pay the SRA’s £12,000 costs.
In a statement following the hearing, Gateleyt said: 'Mr Copley was a real estate partner in our Manchester office between 2010 and 2018. As soon as we were alerted to Mr Copley’s conduct back in 2018 we began an internal investigation, following the robust processes we have in place for dealing with disciplinary matters.
'As a result of that internal investigation, we found that Mr Copley was in breach of our bribery and corruption code of conduct and we terminated his contract with immediate effect and reported it to the SRA. We have assisted the SRA fully in dealing with its investigation. Mr Copley has not been employed by the business for over four years and we would also like to confirm that Mr Copley was not a director of Gateley Plc.'