A solicitor who made a series of improper withdrawals from the client account – then misled the regulator about her firm’s financial position – has been struck off the roll.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal accepted evidence that Rebecca Elliott, admitted in 2000, had used the client account as a ‘piggy bank’ and failed to safeguard client money and assets.
Elliott, who practised from Elliotts Solicitors in Southampton before it was shut down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority last year, was also found to have failed to discharge stamp duty payments made by clients following the purchase of properties.
The tribunal found Elliott had caused direct harm to her clients and the profession in light of her ‘flagrant disregard for the sacrosanct nature of the client account and dishonest engagement’ with the SRA. It added: ‘[Her] departure from the standard expected of her [were] grave and of the utmost seriousness.’
Elliott, who represented herself for the first two days of her hearing in August but not the third in September, specialised in probate, wills and conveyancing.
Investigators moved in after two claims were made to the compensation fund from clients. They found withdrawals coming to £22,782 from the client account over the course of 18 months and ultimately a shortage of more than £8,500.
Twelve separate transactions were paid into the client account under references from an account referred to as ‘JAYS BARBERS’, while in 13 transactions money was paid out under references such as ‘RANGE ROVER’ and ‘SALARY’. She accepted the withdrawals were made but cited personal and health issues that affected her work from 2015 onwards.
On the issue of the stamp duty, Elliott said she thought this had been paid and had not been able to finalise all the post-completion work.
The tribunal heard that when the SRA began investigating her firm, she sent a screen shot showing a client account balance of £14,330, but only after making transfers into the account to give the impression she had the funds to discharge clients’ liabilities. She claimed to have panicked and tried to buy time to obtain the required funds, but the tribunal had ‘no difficulty’ in finding her conduct to be dishonest.
Elliott was also ordered to pay £16,500 costs.