A solicitor who submitted non-existent reports to a fictional company and claimed back the cost from the taxpayer has been banned from the profession.
Victoria Barbara Wadsworth, formerly of Blackburn firm Roebucks Solicitors, was convicted last year for claiming back payments for supposed medical reports to a business called Health Minds, which she had invented. She claimed the cost of the supposed reports from the then Legal Services Commission (LSC).
Wadsworth, a former nurse who joined the firm in 2004 in her first job after qualifying as a solicitor, pleaded guilty last May to a single count of fraud enabling her to gain a total sum of £25,000. In July she was sentenced at Manchester Crown Court to three years’ imprisonment.
This has since been reduced to two years on appeal. She had been dismissed by the firm in 2012 for gross misconduct.
The matter came before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last month. The tribunal heard that Wadsworth’s actions had caused her firm to suffer for more than four years, with staff caused anxiety and stress and the viability of the firm placed under threat. The firm has confirmed it has refunded £182,000 to the LSC, although Wadsworth admitted to taking only £25,000.
‘This was a gross breach of trust,’ said the SDT judgment. ‘[Wadsworth] had made a statement in the criminal proceedings making unpleasant allegations against one of the partners of the firm.
‘When she pleaded guilty at a late stage these allegations fell away. [Wadsworth’s] conduct was dishonest conduct of a particular severe kind and the impact on the reputation of the profession and the trust the public places in the provision of legal services was severe.’
In mitigation, it was submitted on behalf of Wadsworth had been caring for her severely disabled adult son at the time of the fraud. She was now facing Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings that would absorb virtually all her potential capital.
It was heard her motivation for the misconduct was not known, but it was clearly planned as Wadsworth had set up the company to which the payments were made.
Whilst Wadsworth, 50, was found to have a difficult home life, the tribunal said there were no exceptional circumstances that would require anything other than the toughest penalty.
She was struck off the roll of solicitors and ordered to pay £21,864 in costs.