An in-house solicitor who gave a ‘veneer of respectability’ to dubious property schemes has been struck off the roll.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Timothy Ackrel was one of a succession of ‘puppet directors’ used to conceal the beneficiaries of a scheme to sell apartment blocks in north west England. Foreign investors pumped in £16m in the expectation of a 10% annual return, but in fact proceeds from unit sales went to finance the purchase of other sites and fund luxurious lifestyles.
Ackrel, admitted in 2004, was involved with various companies marketing the property as head of legal or in-house solicitor, and paid £5,000 a month until around October 2015.
The schemes resulted in multi-million-pound losses and the creation of meritless legal charges required the intervention of a liquidator.
In his interview with liquidators, Ackrel stated he had handled the payments because he felt threatened and feared for his physical safety. He had later insisted he genuinely believed properties would be constructed and proceed to completion.
It was submitted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority that Ackrel was ‘under the thumb’ of those profiting from the investments. Prosecutors said he allowed payments to be used for other purposes and placed at risk the viability of the development and the investors’ funds. He was involved in at least three schemes, each one marketed to substantial numbers of investors who injected several million pounds. The SRA said Ackrel provided day-to-day legal services to facilitate the schemes' operation.
The tribunal set out that Ackrel had made many of the payments to third parties. To claim he did this under duress, there would have to be evidence of an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury, as well as evidence that no reasonable alternative was available.
In this case, the tribunal found there was no evidence of any threat whatsoever, and over the three years this scheme continued there was ‘ample opportunity for [him] to alert the authorities and to remove himself from the threatening situation’.
The tribunal added that Ackrel knew the schemes were, at the very least, increasingly risky, and in reality were a sham. Ackrel was ‘entirely complicit’ in allowing the schemes to continue and gave them a ‘veneer of respectability’.
The tribunal found Ackrel’s misconduct had involved repeated acts of dishonesty and examples of a lack of integrity, with investors misled, false documents created and anti-money laundering legislation disregarded. Ackrel was ordered to pay £41,325 in costs.