A solicitor who dishonestly transferred almost £200,000 of client money for his own benefit has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Robert Alan Downie was found to have made 22 dishonest transfers amounting to £193,210 over a three-month period in 2019, when sole equity owner of Bathurst Brown & Downie LLP. According to the tribunal’s judgment, the money was moved from the firm’s client account to the office account and on to ‘unknown destinations’.
The tribunal found that Downie, admitted in 1997, had ‘benefitted directly’ from the transfers and had ‘prevaricated’ when clients challenged him about the missing funds. ‘His conduct appeared to be planned, the dishonest round sum transfers had been repeated over a period of three months and there was no indication that any of the misconduct was anything other than deliberate and calculated,’ the tribunal concluded.
Downie was also found to have created a cash shortage of £204,000 after causing or allowing an improper payment to be made from his firm’s client account. The tribunal found that funds that should have been used to redeem a mortgage were not used for that purpose, leaving a client and her parents making mortgage payments upon the same house and leaving the client in debt to HM Revenue & Customs.
According to the judgment, the tribunal considered that Downie had ‘clearly acted recklessly in the actions which led to the creation of this minimum cash shortage on client account given the history of the transaction. He had shown recklessness towards clients and their money in dealing with the money as he did’.
Downie also failed to pay stamp duty land tax on behalf of a client and failed to ensure that his firm had a designated compliance officer for legal practice and/or a compliance officer for finance and administration.
Downie was struck off by the tribunal and ordered to pay costs of £26,358.