A veteran solicitor who repeatedly dipped into the estates of deceased clients to pay off debts has been jailed for seven years and banned from practising.
Linda Mary Box, 67 (pictured), admitted 12 offences of fraud, theft and forgery while a senior partner at Wakefield firm Dixon, Coles & Gill.
She was sentenced on Friday at Leeds Crown Court to seven years in prison. It has since emerged that she was struck off the roll of solicitors at an SDT hearing in October.
Box admitted to dishonestly misappropriating a total of £1.16m from the estates of two clients, leaving beneficiaries without their legacies and costing the profession almost £1m in compensation fund payments.
The solicitor made a total of 41 payments to other firms not named in the will of either client, primarily, she said, to pay off loans and credit card debts.
She was confronted in January 2016 by two partners at the firm, which has since closed, and resigned immediately.
The tribunal said there could be no question about banning Box from the profession, following misappropriation on an almost unprecedented scale.
The SDT judgment said: ‘[Box]’s conduct involved planned, deliberate, systematic, repeated dishonesty over a long period of time. She had breached the trust placed in her by vulnerable people, of whom she had taken advantage, as well as the trust placed in her by fellow partners.’
Box appeared in person at the SDT hearing to express her ‘abhorrence’ at her own behaviour and her apologies and remorse. She said the perception of her success had pressurised her to feel she had to provide for her family and friends, and her ‘generosity in later years’ extended far beyond her means and created a lifestyle she could no longer afford.
In addition to misappropriating money from clients, it was also heard in court that Box had taken more than £63,000 from the Church of England while acting as a registrar for the Diocese of Wakefield.
Simon Higginbotham, of the CPS specialist fraud division, said: ‘Linda Box used her position as a trusted partner in a law firm to steal millions of pounds from the estates of those who had died, depriving their grieving friends and families of their rightful inheritance.’
To date the compensation fund – paid for by contributions from solicitors – has reimbursed £300,000 to former clients of Box and has claims worth £600,000 still outstanding. Insurers of the firm have so far paid £800,000 but will seek to aggregate further claims.