Two compliance officers have been fined after failing to stop a colleague stealing large sums of money from the practice. Paul Leonard Burrows and Sarah-Jane Featherstone, partners at Cambridgshire firm Winters Legal LLP, were found to have failed to exercise sufficient control over a former cashier at the practice.
Over a period of almost three years, the cashier had improperly transferred sums amounting to £47,000 from the client account of the firm.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Burrows and Featherstone had failed to establish and maintain proper accounting systems and proper internal controls over those systems, enabling the cashier to misappropriate more than £30,000 from the firm’s office account.
By failing to remedy the consequent shortage on the client account arising from the cashier’s actions promptly upon its discovery in November 2012, they each breached a further accounts rule.
Burrows, 63, had been a partner from the time he joined the firm in 1983, while Featherstone, 43, became partner after joining the firm as an assistant solicitor in October 2002.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority investigated the firm following a police investigation into the cashier, who was found guilty last summer of charges of theft and fraud by false representation. At the date of forensic investigators visiting the firm, there was a total shortage on the client account of £35,261.
The SDT heard the firm had experienced cashflow difficulties because of the cashier’s actions, and money received from a bank was applied to meet the liabilities of the practice in the genuine belief that any shortfall on the client account would be replaced through the insurance claims.
The shortfall on the client account has been replaced in full.
Burrows and Featherstone agreed a statement of facts and indicated outcome with the SRA. The regulator withdrew an allegation of acting without integrity.
The tribunal said neither solicitor should be suspended from practice or struck off the roll. Burrows was fined £5,000 and Featherstone fined £7,500, with the pair paying £12,500 jointly in costs.