An experienced solicitor who fabricated documents the night before a crucial meeting with the Solicitors Regulation Authority has been struck off the roll.
Jonathan Bede McAreavey, a sole practitioner at Wigan firm Unsworth & Wood, had been asked to produce a bill and client care letter in a meeting with SRA investigators in July 2015.
But the solicitor admitted to drafting the documents the night before the meeting, after no copy of them was found in the firm’s electronic and paper records. He produced them to the investigating officer as genuine but quickly admitted to backdating them when he was challenged. A Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing last month found McAreavey had concealed his wrongdoing and tried to cover it up.
The judgment added: ‘The tribunal was sure that [McAreavey] as an experienced solicitor must have known that by the standards of ordinary and honest people it was wrong to create documents to mislead the person to whom the documents were given.’
The tribunal found several other allegations proved against the solicitor who qualified in 1991 and whose firm closed in November 2015.
He had made seven transfers from client accounts of up to £3,600 between May 2014 and October 2014 and was found to have misappropriated a total of £15,750.
Investigators found no evidence on any files to indicate the transfers were made for any purpose which would have been permitted under account rules.
The tribunal also found McAreavey took payments totalling more than £2,500 for costs without sending written notification to his clients. He claimed to have agreed a fixed fee with the clients, but there was nothing found on the files of a client care letter or evidence of written notification of this agreement.
Among the other allegations found proved was a charge that he failed to return £888.75 to his clients when there was no longer any reason to retain it, failed to keep proper accounting records from October 2014 onwards, and failed to complete a reconciliation of client monies held within the client accounts of his practice at least once every five weeks.
McAreavey was also found to have failed to comply with a decision of the Legal Ombudsman, which ordered him to render no further bills for work done in a matter where there had been a complaint about service. As of October 2014, a review of the client account ledger showed a balance of almost £10,000 remained on the client account.
In mitigation, McAreavey had made good the sum of £15,750 by July 2015, but no other arguments were advanced. The solicitor had not engaged with the tribunal proceedings and had not appeared. A letter had been received from a doctor in May 2016 saying he was unfit to face proceedings, but the hearing went ahead in his absence as there was no evidence put forward for his condition, which was not specified in the judgment.
In addition to a strike off, McAreavey was ordered to pay £15,000 in SRA costs.