A former office manager who transferred thousands of pounds from client accounts has said she was trying to stop the business from failing.

Jacque Aitken, employed by Hampshire firm Simpkins & Co Solicitors for eight years, admitted transferring money from the client account to the office accounts on two matters without the client’s knowledge or consent, according to a Solicitors Regulation Authority decision notice. She accepted that her conduct had been dishonest.

The SRA said Aitken had access to the firm’s bank accounts and was partly responsible for paying invoices and expenses. In 2023, she alerted the SRA to the fact there was a significant shortage on the client account which prompted an investigation.

During an interview with investigators, Aitken admitted making ‘numerous’ transfers over eight month from one client’s account to the office account, which contributed to the firm running up a cash shortage of £160,500.

A further shortage of almost £16,000 was accumulated on another client’s account after similar transfers were made. These transfers were used to pay for office expenses, including staff wages and the repayment of the firm’s business loans.

Aitken left the firm in April 2023 and the firm closed in September. It remains under investigation by the SRA.

In mitigation put forward by Aitken and taken into account by the regulator, she said she was ‘incredibly apologetic’ and expressed remorse for her actions. She made no financial gain from the misconduct and said she was trying to stop the firm from failing. Aitken was the first to alert the SRA as to the minimum shortage on thefFirm's client account and has remained co-operative throughout the investigation.

She claimed to be experiencing a high level of stress at the time and was not, in her view, offered support by her employer. She had believed that the money taken from the client accounts would be replaced promptly by the payment of invoices due.

The SRA said Aitken’s role as an office manager gave her access to client monies and she was in a position of trust. ‘Ms Aitken knew she should not have transferred the funds from the firm’s client account in the way that she did and accepts her actions were wrong,’ said the regulator. ‘She did so to ‘prop-up’ the firm and meet business expenses.’

She was made subject to a section 43 order, preventing her from working for any regulated firm without first seeking SRA permission, and agreed to pay £400 costs.