A solicitor who instructed his secretaries to doctor dozens of documents has been suspended from practice after prosecutors dropped charges of dishonesty.
Dean Russell Easthope, a former associate in the criminal law department of Midlands firm Lanyon Bowdler, acted to correct files where the documents did not reflect the date on which they were created.
He admitted instructing secretaries to fabricate and backdate letters, as well as attendance notes and other documents for files. Over the space of 16 months, he instructed one worker to create 41 documents, in one case because the file had been requested by another firm of solicitors which had taken over the matter. On another occasion a secretary was instructed to create 11 documents because the file had been selected for a Legal Aid Agency audit, but there was no paper file at that time.
Easthope was initially charged with dishonesty in relation to the admitted allegations, but this was withdrawn as part of an application to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for an agreed outcome. The solicitor of 19 years had always denied dishonesty and it was never alleged that the back-dated documents were false, or that the events did not occur as recorded.
Easthope left the firm in March 2017 after his supervisor had expressed concerns that several files were not up to date. He told the tribunal that he had stopped acting as a solicitor, had no intention to return to practice, and was now a self-employed barrister at Cornwall Street Chambers in Birmingham.
Mitigation was advanced concerning Easthope’s health and workload at the time of his misconduct, but the tribunal judgment gave no further details of this.
The tribunal said it had carefully considered whether it was in the interests of justice to allow the allegation of dishonesty to be withdrawn. There had been no financial advantage to anyone and no client was disadvantaged. The Solicitors Regulation Authority accepted this was simply a case of putting the file in the order it should have been. The tribunal said Easthope had ‘not been dishonest but had displayed a lack of integrity by not being entirely truthful’.
The tribunal added that Easthope’s motivation was to ‘satisfy the audit process and in turn his senior partners’. He was immediately suspended for nine months and agreed to pay almost £7,000 in costs.