A consultant solicitor who emailed a client his own bank account details has been struck off the roll for acting dishonestly.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that Gary Ackinclose was practising at The Associate Law Firm in Newcastle when he channelled four payments coming to £2,700 into his own account rather than the firm’s. The money, for work on a debt recovery matter, was not paid back in full for over a year.
Ackinclose, a solicitor for 18 years, told the Solicitors Regulation Authority he had made a genuine error caused by fatigue and his habit of providing his own details for separate business interests. He insisted that he had intended the money to go into the firm’s client account, and his emailing his own details was ‘off the cuff’ and ‘force of habit’. He denied knowingly or deliberately retaining the funds and said he did not regularly check his online bank account.
The SRA told the tribunal it was not credible to suggest Ackinclose did not realise what he was doing, and the evidence showed he was frequently overdrawn during the relevant period. Two former colleagues gave evidence that Ackinclose had complained in the office about the need for money to pay his mortgage and other financial commitments.
The tribunal accepted that Ackinclose might been tired and overworked, but these were not legitimate reasons for giving his own account details. It was found he took a ‘conscious decision’ to put bank details into the client email.
The tribunal also found he acted dishonestly in amending an invoice without telling the firm, and said his case was aggravated by concealment of wrongdoing – notably the wiping of a laptop which contained the firm’s data.
Ackinclose was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £25,395 costs.