A solicitor who made improper transfers of almost £30,000 in order to prop up his struggling firm has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Christopher John Bentley, admitted in 1993, was sole principal of Norfolk-based Cole Bentley & Co Solicitors when he made six improper transfers from his client account to his office current bank account across four client files. According to the tribunal’s judgment, the money - which totalled £29,345 - was used to pay the respondent’s drawings, staff wages and office overheads.
All the improper transfers were made at a time when the firm’s office current account was close to its overdraft limit of £25,000.
The tribunal found there was ‘a clear pattern between the financial position of the firm and the making of improper payments from the client account. This was not a mere coincidence, or a series of coincidences, and was, the tribunal determined, the intentional and deliberate conduct of the respondent’.
The tribunal also found that Bentley fabricated invoices after the event in an attempt to justify some of the improper transfers, and recorded the sending out of cheques when, it was found, no cheques had been sent.
Finding the regulator's allegation of dishonesty proved, the tribunal concluded: ‘The timing of the improper payments matched those times when the respondent needed an injection of cash into the office account. It was clear from that timing that the respondent’s actions were planned. He had breached the trust placed in him by his clients to operate proper stewardship of their monies.’
Bentley – who did not attend the hearing and was not represented – was struck off by the SDT and ordered to pay £18,794 in costs.