A retired solicitor who misappropriated almost £275,000 from a dead client’s estate has agreed he should be struck off the roll.
Andrew Eastham, a solicitor since January 1980, had already been jailed for almost three years after pleading guilty to fraud by abuse of position in relation to the taking of the estate monies.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Eastham, from Lancashire, had been executor on a will drawn up in the early 1990s, naming the client’s son as primary beneficiary and his niece as a contingent beneficiary.
When the client died in 2014, Eastham was no longer practising but he obtained the grant of probate and arranged for the estate funds worth more than £286,000 to be transferred into his bank account. As the primary beneficiary had died, Eastham arranged for a payment of just £7,500 to the former client’s niece.
She reported the matter to the police after Eastham stopped communicating with her, and the payments were investigated. Officers discovered that over the course of a year, Eastham transferred around £149,000 from his personal bank account to accounts controlled by his former wife, withdrew £120,000 from his account through counter cash withdrawals, made six payments to three different debt companies, and spent more than £55,000 on what police described as an ‘excessive lifestyle’.
In interview, Eastham claimed he had taken the money to lend to his ex-wife, although he knew it was improper to do so. Following sentencing at Wolverhampton Crown Court, the judge said the solicitor had abused the trust placed in him and deprived the beneficiary of money owed. Eastham was sentenced to 32 months’ imprisonment and was also made subject to a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Eastham offered no mitigation to the tribunal and agreed a strike-off with the SRA. He also agreed to pay £2,355 costs.