A solicitor of 28 years has been struck off after allowing her ailing firm to be used as a banking facility for two years. Sums of more than £8m passed through the client account of Lancashire firm Iceblue Legal under the ownership of Barbara Gribbin.
Gribbin effectively oversaw a cheque clearing scheme with a third party, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard.
As part of the scheme, the tribunal heard she had paid out sums before cheques had been cleared by the firm’s bank, often on the day deposits were made. The Solicitors Regulation Authority submitted that a business partner, who owned a costs draftsmen business, had deposited the cheques and Gribbin made electronic transfers back to him.
Gribbin had also withheld up to £40,000 that should have been sent to clients, in order to help the firm. For more than a year, she had failed to promptly replace shortfalls in the client account.
The tribunal concluded: ‘Her dishonest behaviour in repeatedly using client funds inappropriately and at times for the benefit of her firm meant that [she] could not be trusted.’
Gribbin contacted the SRA herself in 2018, reporting a £150,000 shortage on the client account and delays in making payments to clients.
She submitted in interview that she had known this business partner for many years, and when she struggled to run the practice he suggested they join forces.
She said she had been ‘stupid enough to agree’ to the cheque clearing scheme and it became a cycle she could not escape. She knew it was wrong to allow her client account to be used as a banking facility and she gained no benefit from it. She accepted responsibility but also said she felt ‘shat on from a great height’.
The tribunal found Gribbin had acted with a lack of integrity, allowed her independence to be compromised, failed to act in the best interests of clients and had acted dishonestly.
In mitigation, Gribbin told the SRA she had not taken any drawings for months and had been using her own savings borrowing money to prop up the business for a year. She was struck off and must pay almost £28,000 in costs.